NEARLY 200,000 students, over half of them undergraduates, benefit from partnership arrangements between universities and other institutions. Many of these students are in further education, but a growing number are in a new and fast expanding sector - the "other higher education."
The Open University in particular is carving out an expanding validation empire, which is helping agrowing number of private and less well-known institutions to join Britain's burgeoning "degree club". The Open University Validation Service accredits over 40 institutions with a total of more than 7,000 students.
According to figures compiled by the Council ofValidating Universities, the total number of students on validated courses in higher education has grown by 67 per cent since 1992.
The CVU believes that those who have already carved themselves a niche in the validation market stand to cash in if Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry into higher education signals a return toexpansion and so a resurgence in validation activity.
The OUVS has joined a handful of big players in the validation market. Its share of that market, amounting to about 5 per cent, is creeping up on others suchas the University of Kent (7,700 full-time equivalent students on courses validated by the university), Southampton University (8,000 FTEs), LeedsUniversity (11,000 FTEs) and the biggest player of them all, Nottingham Trent University (14,000 FTEs).
These universities tend to validate higher education courses in FE. But, Derek Pollard, OUVS director, said his organisation was being encouraged by student demand to look at ways of achieving the academic objectives of the degree course in a wider variety of institutions. There is a rising interest in validation arrangements from private training providers, which are "particularly good at tuning into the market", he said. "Students are now asking whether there arealternative ways of obtaining a degree withoutattending a full-time three-year course which they are finding increasingly difficult to pay for."
Harriet Croft, CVU secretary, said the OUVS couldbe particularly well placed if it continues to increase its share of the private sector market. "Looking at thegeneral thrust of the Dearing inquiry, many of the ideas seem to be employer-driven and so private providers might become a more important part of the scene," she said.
Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, said growth in the number and type of validation arrangements raised questions about the comparability of students' experience on degree courses in different kinds of institutions. A recent HEQC quality audit on the OU's collaborative provision said: "The OUVS fulfils its responsibilities with efficiency and professionalism. It has built up considerable experience and expertise in the processes and procedures of accreditation and credit transfer."