UK sector bodies ‘viewed poorly’ by private providers

Independent HE report suggests it is time for ‘radical new SME approach’ to sector

December 2, 2018
Scuba diver in a paddling pool
Source: Reuters
Out of place: independent providers navigate a sector designed for larger institutions

A survey of UK private providers outlines their dissatisfaction with sector bodies – and suggests that it may be “time for a radical new…approach to higher education”.

Independent HE, which bills itself as the “UK membership organisation and national representative body for independent providers of higher education”, has released results of its annual survey of private providers, which gained responses from 110 institutions.

The survey asked about membership and engagement with sector bodies, including Advance HE, the Association of University Administrators, the Higher Education Policy Institute, Jisc, the Quality Assurance Agency and Ucas.

“Only a small number of independent providers agreed they received good value for money from these interactions [with sector bodies],” the survey report says. “Overall, memberships and services were viewed poorly in terms of value for money, with only UKCISA [the UK Council for International Student Affairs] and CLA [the Copyright Licensing Authority] achieving a positive response from over 30 per cent of those that had or intended to engage with them.”

In the cases of the QAA and Hepi, “while these sector bodies were rated as two of the best-performing in terms of understanding the needs of independent providers, this has not translated to an associated improvement in the provision of provider-tailored services”, the survey report says.

Independent HE says that the survey shows that its part of the sector was “dominated by small and specialist institutions who focus on specific industries, delivery models and on widening access and participation to higher education”.

It adds that providers’ “experiences in the higher education sector, with both regulatory and sector bodies, are challenging as they navigate a sector designed for larger institutions with a greater depth of resources…Independent providers are eager to see what the future may bring with the OfS [Office for Students] in place and potential positive changes to the Tier 4 [visa] system, but a lack of clarity and support is making it difficult to create the level playing field that the government hopes to achieve.

“Perhaps it is time for a radical new [small and medium enterprise] approach to higher education, both for those delivering it in the UK and those seeking to do so abroad.”

Alex Proudfoot, Independent HE chief executive, said: “We have been encouraging policymakers across Whitehall to test every aspect of higher education policy for whether and how it might work for an SME or even micro-business HE provider.”

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