The government has given a private college greater access to public-backed funding for its students, putting it on the same footing as traditional universities.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted “institutional level” designation to ifs University College in August last year, it has emerged, making it the first private institution to win the status since the University of Buckingham in 2006.
The move means that ifs no longer has to apply on a course-by-course basis to seek designation for students on those courses to be eligible for Student Loans Company funding.
Other private providers are thought to be applying to win the status, which is limited to those private institutions with university or university college title.
The University and College Union criticised BIS over the move, pointing out that the Public Accounts Committee recently found the department’s failure to control spending at private colleges to be “nothing short of a scandal”.
Martin Day, vice-principal of ifs, a non-profit and charity, said: “Now as we develop new programmes they are automatically designated for that Student Loans Company funding support, which is a great benefit for us.”
He said it would bring “operational” benefits in terms of no longer having to apply for designations in the two windows each year.
He added: “The distinctions between us and a Hefce [Higher Education Funding Council for England] funded university, they are falling away. This was a welcome move towards that.”
Guidance on designation issued by BIS in August last year says that if private providers with university or university college title have “satisfied the most recent annual monitoring review under the new specific course designation process they will be able to apply for/seek an institutional level specific course designation agreement”.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said that despite the Public Accounts Committee recently criticising BIS on its procedures for private providers, “it feels perfectly comfortable to wield them to create institution-wide access to public money”.
But Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and history at Buckingham, said that the status should be “extended to all private providers”, adding that it would be a “cop- out” not to roll it out more widely.