Healthy estate to be in: new powers for private veteran

Principal buoyed by degree-awarding powers is sanguine about Moocs' threat, finds John Morgan

December 13, 2012

The latest privately funded provider to gain degree-awarding powers has its roots in the aftermath of the First World War but aims to be at the forefront of today's online and distance-learning revolution.

The College of Estate Management, a distance-learning institution offering courses in real estate and construction, will gain taught degree-awarding powers (TDAP) on 1 January after being granted the coveted status by the Privy Council last month.

The college, a charity, becomes the UK's seventh privately funded institution to gain the powers. An application for university status is now on the horizon.

Ann Heywood, the college's principal, said that it is now the country's only private institution with TDAP specialising in distance learning.

The college was founded in 1919 in response to the scale of British losses in the Great War, which meant there were not enough trained staff left to manage the country's estates.

It gained its Royal Charter in 1922 and moved from London to Reading in 1972. The college has 3,500 students in 105 countries - the majority already in work.

The institution's strategic plan, which runs to 2015, includes university title among its goals.

Dr Heywood said: "We might give ourselves a year to breathe...and implement TDAP before we apply for university title. But it is our intention to look at that very closely."

Could the college, like the former College of Law, potentially be sold to a private investor now that it has the added attraction of degree-awarding powers?

Dr Heywood said: "We have a Royal Charter, which was just updated... and we would need to look very closely at what was required if we were to go down that path. It is not something we have considered."

Asked if the institution would nevertheless pique the interest of potential buyers, she said: "I am sure we shall."

But she said the institution's attitude "when people do come knocking" would be to "just carry on with what we are doing".

She added: "Because we have such a long heritage...we regard ourselves - and are regarded by our professions - as a gold-standard institution."

The college, which charges annual fees of £3,600 for its BScs, says it offers a "structured online study programme with guidance from experienced tutors". Face-to-face teaching is offered but it is not compulsory, Dr Heywood added.

The principal is sanguine about the challenge posed to her institution by massive open online courses. Referring to Coursera, the major Mooc platform, she said: "A lot of people sign up but don't necessarily follow through with it, and certainly don't take the certificate." By contrast, her college has an 80 per cent retention rate, she added.

Dr Heywood affirmed that the college wanted "to be part of higher education provision in the UK and remain an important part of that".

"Distance learning and online learning is very much the way it is going both for ourselves and the more traditional institutions. Given we have specialised in it for the past 90 years, we can bring that experience to bear," she said.

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