Ministers and the higher education community are rightly asking tough questions about quality assurance and the safeguarding of public funding now that private providers are offering degree courses (“Greg Clark pledges action on private college quality”, 5 February).
But the opening of the market to alternative providers also gives us the opportunity to rethink the “leave home at 18 or 19 and study full-time at university” model. Had excessive caution prevailed in the 1960s when an alternative model of higher education delivery was proposed by Michael Young, The Open University would not have been given a chance. In that arguably less risk-averse decade, we had the imagination to do things differently. As a result, more than 1.5 million people across the world have studied at higher level, most of them adults who would not have been able to do so without The Open University’s flexible approach.
As Times Higher Education reported, the overall rise in undergraduate applications in 2014 masks a decline in both part-time and mature applicants (“Undergraduate applications hit record number, says Ucas”, 30 January). Nonetheless, about 40 per cent of students are now studying part-time.
For many young students, meeting new people and moving away from home is an important part of the university experience. But that’s not true for all, such as those who are not socially confident and some with a disability. The Sodexo-Times Higher Education University Lifestyle Survey 2014 found that 19 per cent of students were living at home in 2013 – six percentage points higher than in 2008, before university fees rose. For others, the challenge of degree-level study is one to be confronted in their twenties, thirties or beyond.
For all undergraduates and postgraduates, the design of the future quality assurance framework for higher education needs to be informed as much by the ability to accommodate innovative models of delivery as by the guardianship of public funds and the quality of the student experience.
Chair of trustees
Open College of the Arts