The quality watchdog is investigating a private college at the centre of allegations over misuse of student loans.
It comes just months after the Quality Assurance Agency gave London School of Science and Technology a clean bill of health in September 2013 in a review for educational oversight (REO), awarding it the “confidence” and “reliance” judgements required to pass.
But this week, The Guardian has alleged that classrooms at the college were empty despite it having 1,500 students, many of them claiming support from the public-backed Student Loans Company, and that the college has offered places to students without the required skills.
The QAA’s judgement on LSST will increase concerns about the watchdog’s ability to monitor standards among for-profit colleges, many of whom are rapidly expanding their number of students on public-backed loans.
The QAA said in a statement that it is “currently investigating” the London School of Science and Technology.
“This follows concerns raised about recruitment and admissions procedures, attendance, staffing, and the monitoring of academic standards,” it added.
Yet the QAA’s REO review highlighted admissions as an area of “good practice”. The review says: “The extended admissions process creates crucial dialogue between staff and students.”
“The school has devised a rigorous programme for programme monitoring,” the QAA adds in the review. It also praises “robust procedures for assessment”.
The QAA’s investigation is being carried out under its concerns scheme.
LSST offers higher national certificates and higher national diplomas validated by Pearson, the QAA REO review notes, as well as a top-up degree programme under agreement with the University of West London.
The latest developments will raise concerns about the level of rigour involved in the QAA’s REO process. These reviews were originally designed to judge if private colleges met the standards for highly trusted sponsor (HTS) status to recruit overseas students.
Yet they are now to play a central role in the government’s expansion of private higher education.
Under new rules introduced by the government, private colleges will have to go through QAA review if they want their students to have access to public funding.
But unlike publicly-funded universities, which must undergo full institutional review by the QAA, private colleges will be allowed to go through the lesser REO.
LSST issued a statement to the Guardian denying the allegations in the newspaper, saying its admissions procedures were “undoubtedly robust”.