A building that collapsed into a pile of rubble was still officially listed as a site of the UK’s biggest private college when it fell down, it has emerged, while the quality watchdog has upheld two concerns about the college and found reports of fighting in the classroom.
A report on St Patrick’s College, where students have received £185 million in public-backed funding in the past two years, was published on 30 April by the Quality Assurance Agency under its Concerns scheme.
In 2013-14, nearly 7,000 students claimed Student Loans Company tuition fee loans to take St Patrick’s sub-degree Higher National courses, awarded by Pearson.
The QAA’s report found that practice was “broadly acceptable” in four out of six areas examined at the college. The “significant exceptions” were admissions procedures and student retention and attendance, where the QAA said the “concerns raised are justified”.
The QAA found dropout rates of more than 30 per cent on St Patrick’s courses, along with reports from current students of “fighting in the classroom”.
The report found evidence “indicative of recruitment errors and a failure to ensure that academic staff are equipped to cope with periodic disciplinary problems”.
However, following the report, the government gave the green light to for-profit St Patrick’s to resume accessing public money.
The college had fee payments suspended earlier this year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. BIS mounted its own investigation into the college, which has concluded but has not been published. Following the QAA report, St Patrick’s “will provide an action plan” within six weeks, to be followed up by a full Higher Education Review to ensure that the report’s recommendations are addressed, the watchdog says.
Daniel Khan, principal of St Patrick’s, said that the college “takes particular satisfaction from QAA’s finding that the majority of the concerns raised cannot be upheld and its recognition that students speak positively about the helpfulness of teaching staff, person[al] tutors, and unit leaders”.
Until Times Higher Education drew it to BIS’ attention, the register of providers on the Higher Education Funding Council for England website, developed to give students more information about an increasingly diverse sector, listed 48 Carey Street in Central London as one of the college’s official sites.
On 20 April, that building, which had been leased by St Patrick’s in its period of rapid expansion, suffered a dramatic collapse as it was being demolished.
St Patrick’s left Carey Street in September last year and began to teach from new sites in Billiter Street in the City of London, and in Stratford in East London. Private providers’ campuses must be designated by BIS if students at those sites are to receive SLC funding.
A BIS spokesman said: “We allowed existing students on support to continue their studies at the new campus while we considered the application for designation in order to limit unnecessary disruption.”
He also said that Vince Cable, the business secretary, had written to St Patrick’s last month to designate the Billiter Street and Stratford sites for existing and new students.
Professor Khan, who has previously said that his professorial title was awarded by Yangtze University in China, said that “providers cannot directly change that [Hefce] register and all information on it comes from government bodies”.