Retention rates as low as 5 per cent on a private college’s higher education courses have been branded “unsatisfactory”.
An investigation by the Quality Assurance Agency into ABI College found that, of 45 students who started higher national diplomas in January 2013, only 11 had completed their two-year programmes by the time of the agency’s visit in March 2015. Only two had achieved their intended qualification.
The review was launched after former students made a number of allegations about the college, which has centres in West London and Reading.
The QAA’s report says that examination of the college’s cohort data for programmes offered since July 2012 reveals that, while retention rates for postgraduate-level qualifications were “generally good”, the results for HNDs (higher national diplomas) were “unsatisfactory”.
They ranged from 39 per cent for an HND in health and social care and 35 per cent for an HND in business, to 20 per cent for an HND in computing and systems development and 5 per cent for an HND in hospitality management.
The report says the poor retention rate “derives from a combination of student withdrawals and exclusions by the college for unsatisfactory attendance and/or non-submission of coursework for assessment”.
The college “acknowledges that some programmes have experienced a higher attrition rate than it would like”, the report says, adding that measures designed to improve retention have subsequently been introduced.
These include improvements to admission procedures, including “a literacy test and an interview based on an essay” and, since October 2014, “monthly monitoring of attendance and progress”.
“The college reports that these steps have resulted in improved on-course retention,” the report adds. “However, it is difficult at this stage to ascertain from the data analysis for each programme if the situation is improving, as insufficient cohorts have completed their programmes.”
The report also explores a range of other complaints made by former students.
It says that some students complained that they were still waiting for feedback on coursework submitted 12 months previously, and that the college had no formal approach to informing students of their progress on their programme.
It adds that the Acton site has “insufficient space” for private study other than empty classrooms and that students had raised concerns about computers being unavailable.
Nicholas Goddard, ABI College’s external quality adviser, claimed that the complainants were students who had been excluded for lack of commitment to their learning. These exclusions accounted for the low retention rate, he said.
“We are rigorous at admitting with integrity; we currently turn away approximately 80 per cent of all applicants to get genuine students on board,” he said. “We felt we these were not genuine students, we took appropriate action at the time, and their retaliation was to use the QAA concerns procedure.”
Professor Goddard said that, even with a “perfectly well constructed” admissions procedure, it was still possible for students to get through “without intention of studying”. “We accept the recommendations but we were acting on them before the team came,” he added.
ABI College also offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded by the University of St Mark and St John, which were not affected by the QAA investigation.