UK degree powers key for Northeastern in NCH deal

Boston university wants to develop one-to-one tutorial model as it creates ‘global university system’

November 16, 2018
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Northeastern University’s deal to buy the New College of the Humanities aims to secure UK degree-awarding powers and to develop the London college’s one-to-one tutorial model, according to the US institution’s president.

Joseph Aoun was speaking after it emerged that the Boston university aimed to complete a deal for the London institution, subject to approval by UK authorities. But he would not comment on how much Northeastern will pay for NCH, owned by its shareholders via a for-profit entity called Tertiary Education Services.

In the UK, one sector source said that they “do not understand why it is that Northeastern wants to buy [NCH]”, given that NCH has around 200 students, is relying on a loan from its biggest shareholder as its income does not cover costs, and leases rather than owns its buildings.

However, those at NCH – to be known as NCH at Northeastern if the deal goes through – argue that the institution is where it would expect to be at this stage in terms of income, given its status as a “start-up” established in 2012.

Many see the deal as something of an unlikely one, given that NCH has sought to bill itself as an “Oxbridge-style” institution, while Northeastern is a “one-time blue-collar commuter school”, as The Wall Street Journal put it.

However, Northeastern is now “building a global university system” via an array of international campuses, Professor Aoun said. “We believe the students of the future will be mobile, will have the ability to roam the world, to experience various ecosystems, various approaches to education,” he said.

Professor Aoun told Times Higher Education that Northeastern is “very interested in the model NCH represents – one-on-one tutorial”, adding that the US institution wants to combine this with its own emphasis on “entrepreneurship and experiential education”, and scope as a comprehensive research university, to develop an innovative curriculum equipping students for the age of artificial intelligence.

NCH, which currently awards degrees validated by Solent University, has applied for its own degree-awarding powers. The application process will now take account of the potential change of ownership.

Are the degree-awarding powers what Northeastern is paying for?

Professor Aoun said that NCH was “finishing the process” of its application, adding that non-profit Northeastern had been “led to believe it [the change of ownership] will actually strengthen the application”.

Northeastern already has 600 students in London at a study abroad centre. Why seek UK degree-awarding powers instead of carrying on with study abroad?

“The difference between an overseas study approach and ours [in buying NCH] is that an overseas study centre has been essentially an export mechanism – the university is exporting its programmes and offerings in a different setting,” said Professor Aoun.

“Whereas here [with the NCH deal] we are not exporting, we are integrating the best of the UK higher education approach with our approach.”

There is no target for student numbers, Professor Aoun said. He added: “We’re not interested in duplicating what we have in [Northeastern’s existing campuses in] Boston or Seattle, or Toronto or Vancouver or San Francisco or Charlotte.”

In the US, Northeastern’s tuition fees are $50,450 (£39,439) in 2018-19, whereas NCH recently reduced its fees to the level of the national cap, £9,250. Professor Aoun said that NCH “has its own tuition and fees” levels and “we expect to keep that”.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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