Source: Teri Pengilley
Tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fee loans are likely to have been paid to a private college that failed its first Quality Assurance Agency inspection.
London Oriental Academy, which won the right to access student loans last year, received a rare “no confidence” verdict from the higher education watchdog after its reviewers visited the teacher training centre in May.
In a damning report, the QAA team says it has no faith in the institution’s management of academic standards or its provision of learning opportunities to students.
For example, the course information provided to students is inaccurate, it adds, with courses still listed on the college’s website years after they were discontinued.
The academy, which is situated in East London, and its students have now been barred from accessing Student Loans Company funding.
The college recruited 440 students in 2013-14 on various course levels after gaining the funding, with 14 enrolled on a year-long level 5 diploma in further education teaching when the QAA visited.
The college confirmed that some 125 students had been withdrawn, with their tuition fee loans “clawed back” by the SLC.
The QAA is scathing about the institution’s efforts to uphold academic standards: its committee structure is non-operational, with minutes-taking below the required standards, the report says.
It criticises the college’s decision not to publish student entry requirements on its website (they are revealed to applicants only at interview).
London Oriental Academy was also unable to state the qualifications or experience of its current students, according to a recent report by City & Guilds, the accreditor of its courses, the QAA adds.
The academy declined to state its tuition fees when contacted by Times Higher Education, but if they are at least £6,000 – the maximum that students at private colleges can borrow from the SLC for fees – some £84,000 may have been paid to the college in 2013-14 for the 14 level 5 diploma students alone, with tens of thousands more potentially awarded to students in maintenance support.
Thousands more may have been paid to students who later dropped out, although the sum awarded apparently has been returned.
A London Oriental Academy spokesman criticised the “unreasonable and subjective decisions” made by City & Guilds that had triggered the QAA investigation.
He said that the college had “refuted” many of the QAA’s claims, adding that the City & Guilds report had unfairly imposed “sanctions on a credible organisation with 18 years of sound track record and recognitions”.
“We are proud to say that LOA is not an ‘ATM’ college, whereby money is collected for students who do not exist (or do not attend),” he added, saying the institution “maintained strict enrolment processes and withdrew students who did not meet the entry requirements”.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it was not yet able to say how much the SLC had paid to the college, but it had “instructed SLC to suspend all payments to LOA and students studying at LOA on 6 June, after being made aware by QAA of the concerns raised in its draft report”.
“An investigation is ongoing and a final decision on how to proceed has yet to be made,” he added.