A private college under investigation over its academic standards was approved for public loan funding despite major concerns over its teaching, including a staff-to-student ratio reaching 1:83 and students receiving “illegible” feedback on assignments.
AA Hamilton College, which has about 500 students at its campuses in Central London, Wembley and Sheffield, is to face a full review by the Quality Assurance Agency after it identified “a number of significant weaknesses” in its courses.
Reviewers from the QAA carried out an investigation under its Concerns scheme, visiting the college on three occasions between November and January after it was alleged that assignments were “manufactured” for payments of £100 and student attendance was below 10 per cent.
The review team found no evidence to support the claims, but raised concerns over AA Hamilton’s management of student assessment, monitoring of attendance, admissions and nine other areas of higher education provision, in a report published on 17 April.
The college, which received £1.8 million in tuition fee loan funding in 2013-14, said that it found the QAA’s criticisms “surprising and disappointing” as it had passed a course designation review carried out by the agency in January 2014 – just seven months before the latest investigation was launched. The college passed the course designation process, which gave the green light for it to access public-backed funding, despite the QAA’s course designation report raising concerns over the college, whose student numbers increased from 15 to 529 in a single year.
These students were taught by just two full-time and eight part-time staff, “giving an initial staff-student ratio of 1:83”, the QAA course designation report says.
This ratio was moving towards 1:50 thanks to student dropouts and increasing staff hours, it adds.
It took two months for students to receive handwritten feedback on their assignments, which was “illegible [and] lacking in detail”, the report adds.
In addition, students recruited to the Higher National Diploma were not told that Pearson, the qualification’s awarding body, had “placed a block on the programme” pending a review, which the college subsequently passed.
In a statement, AA Hamilton said that it would lodge a complaint over the QAA’s findings and had “serious concerns” about the way the investigation was conducted.
Times Higher Education asked to speak to AA Hamilton’s principal, but staff declined to reveal his or her name, while one employee said that he was unsure who was in charge.