Regulator to investigate Leeds Trinity franchised provision

University’s subcontracted courses first to come under greater scrutiny from Office for Students

February 22, 2024
Hands leaf through documents
Source: iStock / XiXinXing

The Office for Students (OfS) has opened an investigation into Leeds Trinity University over its franchised provision.

“Potential concerns” had been identified at the institution that “require further scrutiny”, the regulator said in a statement.

Courses delivered by Leeds Trinity’s subcontracted partners will be looked at to check if they are high quality, according to the OfS.

It will also check whether the university has “effective management and governance in place for subcontractual partners” and consider whether it has “complied with general ongoing conditions of registration, and any matters relevant to the provider’s authorisation for degree-awarding powers in relation to its partnerships”. One area of focus is whether Leeds Trinity “has complied with the requirements relating to provision of information to the OfS”.

Leeds Trinity is the first to come under scrutiny from the OfS over franchised provision after the regulator last year announced it would focus on this area as part of its investigations into poor student outcomes.

Franchising – whereby a partner institution delivers all or some of a university’s course – has come under the spotlight in recent months after the National Audit Office detected student loan fraud connected to some providers that work with universities.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee are set to hold a hearing to discuss the NAO’s findings on 26 February.

A recent analysis by Times Higher Education of Office for Students data shows the number of franchised students at Leeds Trinity has increased dramatically in recent years, from zero in 2018-19 to 7,350 in 2021-22. This made it the fifth-biggest provider in this space, behind Buckinghamshire New, Canterbury Christ Church and Anglia Ruskin universities and the University of Suffolk

The OfS said its decision to open an investigation “does not mean that any form of non-compliance or wrongdoing has taken place”.

A Leeds Trinity spokesperson said: “As a responsible higher education provider we understand and take seriously our obligation to comply with all relevant rules and guidelines to meet the sector’s regulatory requirements. Leeds Trinity University will work with the OfS to ensure transparency and assurance in relation to the institution’s franchise partnership arrangements.  

“Widening participation is at the heart of Leeds Trinity’s ethos and has been for many years. Franchise partnerships are one of a number of ways in which the university enables social mobility and raising aspirations in groups traditionally under-represented in higher education.”

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