One in seven recommendations for improvements issued to further education colleges by the Quality Assurance Agency last year centred on courses leading to a higher education qualification awarded by the education company Pearson.
The QAA said that it had issued guidance to all colleges operating Pearson’s higher national programmes because, of 375 recommendations issued to English, Welsh and Northern Irish colleges during 2014-15, 56 concerned courses leading to a qualification from the company.
The majority of recommendations focus on concerns that institutions have not been not complying with the company’s requirements on issues such as student assessment and appeals.
Will Naylor, the QAA’s director of quality assurance, told Times Higher Education that universities that validated higher education courses in further education colleges tended to maintain “closer and more direct involvement” than Pearson.
In one case, Southampton City College was found to meet expectations in its operation of programmes leading to Middlesex University awards, while its programmes leading to Pearson qualifications required improvement.
“With a university, there is much less room for confusion or ambiguity about what the college should be doing,” Mr Naylor said. “In some cases, there is some confusion about what colleges should be doing in respect to Pearson provision, which has led to recommendations and, in one case, an unsatisfactory judgement.”
A report published on 29 October reveals broader concerns about the quality of college-based higher education, with 17 out of 62 institutions that had their provision reviewed in 2014-15 receiving one or more unsatisfactory judgements (27 per cent). Only five received commendations.
In contrast, eight of the 24 higher education institutions that were reviewed received commendations, and only one received an unsatisfactory judgement. This was St Mary’s University, Twickenham, for its enhancement of student learning opportunities.
Eighty per cent of the colleges that were reviewed offered Pearson qualifications, which have also been offered by a number of rapidly expanding private higher education providers.
A spokeswoman for the company said that it “recognise[d] the issues QAA raised” and had worked with the watchdog to draw up the new guidance.
“Some centres have fallen short of the recruitment and teaching standards that both QAA and Pearson expect,” the spokeswoman said. “Where we have discovered that centres have not recruited with integrity we have taken tough action, including blocking certification and recruitment.”