England’s quality watchdog has found that sub-degree courses at the private London School of Business and Finance, where students received £81.5 million in public-backed funding in two years, fail to meet standards.
LSBF grew to be the country’s second biggest private college in terms of number of students on sub-degree Higher National courses receiving Student Loans Company money, under the expansion of private provision begun under former Conservative universities and science minister David Willetts.
The college admitted to sub-degree Higher National programmes students “who could not complete their programmes, either because they could not meet the academic requirements of the programme or lacked effective English language skills”, according to a Higher Education Review by the Quality Assurance Agency, published on 1 October.
The report also looks at concerns about the number of LSBF students claiming SLC funding who are not registered with Pearson, the awarding body for the Higher National qualifications they were studying. The QAA report says the college “fundamentally undermined” the achievement prospects of some students by failing to register them.
Overall, the QAA’s report finds that the quality of student learning opportunities for LSBF’s Higher National provision, and the enhancement of student learning opportunities across all courses, “does not meet UK expectations”.
Reviewers found that maintenance of academic standards on awards offered on behalf of degree-awarding bodies and other awarding bodies, as well as the quality of student learning opportunities for courses other than Higher National qualifications, do meet UK expectations.
LSBF, part of the Global University Systems group that recently bought the University of Law, announced in a statement published on 25 September that it will phase out its courses designated for SLC funding, following a review of GUS.
LSBF students across all designated courses claimed £81.5 million in fee and maintenance loans, and maintenance grants, across 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to SLC figures.
The QAA’s report says that Pearson had informed the QAA in January 2015 that the number of LSBF students registered with Pearson “was significantly smaller than the number of students enrolled on the programmes”.
“On this basis, QAA raised a Concern and referred it to the present review,” says the report.
At the time the review was carried out in March, LSBF, based at Tower Hill in London, had 4,979 students on Pearson Higher National courses and 1,944 on programmes leading to university awards (all of which are being phased out).
The report says that external standards verifiers had “commented on low levels of previous attainment, poor English language and bad discipline and conduct” among students at the college.
It notes that LSBF carried out an audit in December 2014 that found that 4,172 students had enrolled on Higher National courses but not registered with Pearson.
On student complaints, the report says “LSBF’s complaints procedures have failed to work effectively, and thus are unfair and inaccessible to students”.
LSBF said in a statement: “The school welcomes the positive judgements related to the maintenance of academic standards and the quality of student learning opportunities for graduate and postgraduate programmes. However, the school expresses disappointment at the findings related to its Higher National programmes though they largely confirm self-critical judgements reached by the school itself.”
And it said that “as regards action to be taken in response to QAA’s criticism of HND [Higher National Diploma] programmes, as announced on 25 September, following recommendations outlined in a Strategic Options Review report produced by independent expert advisors, LSBF UK will implement a phased withdrawal from future provision at HND level”.
In a separate statement to Times Higher Education, a GUS spokesman said that St Patrick’s College, also part of GUS, which grew to be the biggest private college in terms of students on Higher National courses under the Willetts-era expansion, will become the group’s “sole and specialist provider of HND and similar BIS-designated programmes supported by investment in sector-leading research into how best to meet the needs of students from educationally and socially deprived backgrounds”.
Meanwhile, LSBF “will sharpen its focus whilst maintaining its reputation for sector-leading innovation in the delivery of a large portfolio of post-experience customised executive programmes and corporate training for both the private and public sectors”, he added.