Fifth of students at private college fail to show at classes

An investigation into a for-profit college by the UK’s quality watchdog has found that a fifth of students in a sample failed to show up to any classes at all, despite receiving public funding

June 19, 2015

The Centre for Advanced Studies, trading as the City of London College, where students claimed £11.2 million in tuition fee and maintenance funding from the Student Loans Company in 2013-14, is the subject of a Concerns report by the Quality Assurance Agency.

The report is the result of the first joint investigation between the QAA and the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA). It says that for one of the areas taught by the college, health and social care, the institution’s library displayed just eight relevant texts, while in some courses only between 5 and 12 per cent of students had managed to pass a module.

The Whitechapel-based college offers sub-degree Higher National courses awarded by Pearson via its examinations arm, Edexcel.

The QAA's report follows criticism by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the government has failed to safeguard public money in allowing private colleges to rapidly expand student numbers, a policy begun by the coalition in 2010.

The QAA began its investigation after receiving “allegations about academic malpractice related to programmes awarded by the University of Wales and Pearson Edexcel”.

These included claims “that a tutor was simultaneously teaching on a module while also studying it themselves” and “that the tutor also submitted other students’ work as their own”, the report says.

The QAA’s Concerns team found “no evidence to confirm whether or not the alleged misconduct had taken place, and the college was able to confirm that there has been no other time where a tutor simultaneously undertook the same course at the college that they were appointed to teach on. The concerns team found no evidence of a second or subsequent similar occurrence.”

Although the QAA’s team “found no evidence to support systemic malpractice on the part of the college”, it did identify “a number of significant weaknesses and areas of risk for the college’s management of academic quality and standards”.

The report gives the college 13 recommendations, and it will “provide an action plan within six weeks of publication setting out how it will address these weaknesses”, the QAA says.

A “random sample of 30 Higher National Diploma students reviewed by the GIAA found very high levels of non-attendance”, the report says. “In the autumn term 2014 none of the sample had achieved the college’s own minimum attendance level of 80 per cent; 17 per cent of the sample had 0 per cent attendance; only 23 per cent had attended more than 50 per cent of classes.”

The report adds: “All students within the sample had drawn down student loans, and several were drawing down second year loans having failed to pass or submit a single assessment in the first year.”

It says that while “there is evidence of a marked improvement in the retention of students on the Pearson Edexcel provision, this has been achieved in part through the college’s relaxed approach to progression…whereby students are allowed to continue their studies carrying a substantial number of non-submissions and/or referrals.”

And the report also says: “The student tracking sheets for HND Business, HND Hospitality Management and HND Health and Social Care show significant numbers of students not submitting work or being referred across a range of modules at both levels 4 and 5. An examination of the data for the 2013-14 cohort shows that achievement is poor, with only 5-12 per cent of students having passed a module, depending on which course they are enrolled. No student successfully passed all modules taken in year one.”

A college spokesman said that the institution was “pleased to receive the QAA findings that the original allegations were not substantiated”, adding that “the college looks forward to continuing making enhancements to its provision as required of all UK higher education”.

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