Fourth private body wins right to award degrees

November 26, 2009

An educational charity has become the fourth private provider to win degree-awarding powers.

The ifs School of Finance, a not-for-profit group, has been granted taught degree-awarding powers by the Privy Council, with effect from 2 January next year.

It follows the College of Law, professional training company BPP and Ashridge Business School as the private organisations to win the powers since the Government relaxed its rules in 2004.

Gavin Shreeve, principal of the ifs, said: "It unleashes all sorts of things in terms of building our reputation."

The school's BSc degrees are currently awarded by the University of Manchester, while the University of Surrey awards its masters degrees.

The ifs said it has about 60,000 students in 60 countries, providing degrees through a mixture of distance and face-to-face tuition. Most of its students are already employed.

Degree-awarding powers are given on the basis of confidential advice provided to the Privy Council by the Quality Assurance Agency. The QAA describes this as "one of our most important responsibilities, since, in making these recommendations, we are helping to redefine the UK's higher education sector".

Institutions that are not publicly funded must undergo an audit every six years to renew their powers.

Last year, the former head of the QAA, Peter Williams, said private companies that gain the power to award degrees join a "pond full of piranhas" and may be better off working with established universities to provide recognised courses.

Despite the plummeting reputation of the UK financial sector in the global downturn, Mr Shreeve said there had been a surge in demand for ifs courses.

"People have realised that there is no substitute for specialised knowledge," he said. "A number - not all - of organisations have been very assiduous in keeping up their level of education."

Asked if the curriculum would include lessons learnt in the wake of the crisis, Mr Shreeve said: "It reflects issues such as the appropriate management of risk, which perhaps some people took their eye off."

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