BIS tight-lipped over private refusals

Two big providers again make the designated list but few details offered about others

November 6, 2014

Source: Alamy

Taciturn: BIS ‘cannot provide the names of those that applied for designation and were refused’

Two of England’s fastest-growing private colleges have been granted permission by the government for their students to continue accessing public funding, but 53 private institutions had applications refused.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has disclosed that it has designated St Patrick’s and the London School of Business and Finance for 2014-15, so their students will be eligible for Student Loans Company funding.

BIS revealed that those designations had been granted last month, well after the academic year had begun.

It is thought that the designation process is still not yet concluded and that more private providers are awaiting decisions for 2014-15.

Amid growing concerns about the lack of regulatory controls over private colleges, BIS told Times Higher Education that it had designated 100 private providers for 2014-15, compared with 146 in 2013-14. The department also said that it had rejected designation applications from 53 alternative providers.

Since the coalition government came to power in 2010 and started a policy to encourage private provision, annual public funding for students at private providers has grown from £30 million to a projected £900 million this year.

A BIS spokesman said: “We cannot provide the names of those that applied for designation and were refused.” He added: “This information isn’t available under FoI [the Freedom of Information Act] either.”

However, it should be possible to see a list of which private providers have been designated, and to determine overall student numbers in the sector, when BIS discloses the student number controls allocated to each institution.

Student number controls were introduced at private providers for the first time this year in the wake of concerns about the rapid growth in their recruitment of SLC-backed students, particularly those on sub-degree Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas.

“The number controls for each provider will be made public shortly,” the BIS spokesman said.

Of all the private colleges, St Patrick’s and LSBF, both owned by Global University Systems, had the highest numbers enrolled on sub-degree qualifications and claiming SLC funding in 2012-13. The two had a combined 5,485 such students on higher national courses that year, according to government figures.

LSBF is listed on the website of the Higher Education Funding Council for England as having 557 course designations for 2014-15.

BIS confirmed that St Patrick’s has now been granted designation for the current year. Asked why the decision had been delayed, the department’s spokesman said: “This year, the criteria for designation have been strengthened to protect the interests of students, the reputation of UK higher education and public investment. Following an assessment of St Patrick’s application, they have been designated for 2014-15 for the courses and locations that were in their application.”

In 2012-13, St Patrick’s went from having no students on higher national courses with public-backed loans to having more than 4,000.

Sorry for the queues: St Patrick’s apologises for its growing pains

One of the largest private colleges in England, St Patrick’s, apologised to students for congestion and “not sufficient resources” after relocating some of its provision to a new building.

An email from the college’s principal, Daniel Khan, said that start times for groups at Billiter Street in the City of London would be staggered “so the entrance/exits are not congested”.

The Billiter Street building is not designated for students to receive public-backed loans. But a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that St Patrick’s had notified BIS of its “intention to teach designated courses from Billiter Street, and we are currently reviewing all the details they have provided”.

The email about Billiter Street, dated 8 October, was sent to all students on the health and social care Higher National Diploma course at the building.

Fees for St Patrick’s higher national courses are £6,000 for home students.

Professor Khan says in the email – seen by Times Higher Education – that the senior management team is “very aware and equally concerned about the current situation at Billiter Street Campus, namely to do with the late notification of the relocation, queues for the lifts, no access to staircases and not sufficient resources”.

He continues: “In hindsight, it is obvious the planning of the relocation did not cover all aspects and we are truly very sorry for some of the experiences you, as St. Patrick’s students, have had to endure…”

Amol Gurung, head of academic administration and student experience at St Patrick’s, said that “the teething troubles which arose in the first week of occupation of the premises have long since been resolved and student feedback is very positive”. He added that the “premises and facilities compare favourably with those available at further education and other colleges offering HND courses in London”.

John Morgan

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

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Reader's comments (1)

It seems very odd that BIS want this process of course designation to be so confidential. While we can see QAA's completed reviews, we don't get to know who has applied for designation, unless they get it. BIS advance two reasons why the process is commercially confidential and therefore exempt under Section 43 of FOIA . They say that the public interest in knowing is outweighed by the public interest of ensuring the "commercial interests of external businesses are not damaged or undermined by disclosure of information which is not common knowledge and which could adversely impact on future business". In addition, the BIS claim their own commercial interests could be "damaged as disclosure could damage out business reputation and the confidence our customers have in us, making them reluctant to provide us with commercial sensitive information in the future". Apparently, this process is *so* fragile, that BIS have to make it confidential because if it wasn't, the providers would decline to participate in it. Clearly we are not going to get a new HE bill from this government, but we should be ensuring all political parties commit to getting regulation properly sorted after May 2015.

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