Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

QAA in the Dark on 63 of 94 Private Providers

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

QAA in the Dark on 63 of 94 Private Providers

Article excerpt

Most institutions receiving SLC funds have had no quality review. John Morgan reports.

The Quality Assurance Agency says it has no knowledge of the teaching quality at two-thirds of the private institutions to benefit from state- backed student loans funding.

The QAA, which is responsible for safeguarding standards in the sector, made the statement to Times Higher Education as it emerged that private providers are seeking admission to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and to Universities UK, the vice-chancellors' body that represents the sector in negotiations with the government.

Minutes from a meeting of the Interim Regulatory Partnership Group, set up by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Student Loans Company to look at transition to the new system, state: "Both Ucas and QAA reported that alternative providers were seeking admission to their organisations and both were looking at their membership models. Similar approaches were being received by UUK and the Committee of University Chairs."

A UUK spokesman would only say: "As a matter of policy, we don't publicly discuss membership applications or terms."

Despite the suggestion that private providers are seeking greater involvement with the sector's key bodies, the private sector's overall engagement with the QAA appears to be limited.

The QAA said that it presently has 11 private subscribers (five with degree-awarding powers) subject to "institutional review", the same assessment to which their Hefce-funded degree-awarding counterparts are subject.

But state-subsidised SLC funding went to students at 94 private providers in 2010-11, the QAA said.

At present, students at private providers are allowed access to SLC funding where the provider's courses are "designated" by the government - nominally by the business secretary, Vince Cable.

The higher education White Paper contained plans to make all providers of designated courses subscribe to the QAA. But the higher education bill that would have created such legislation appears to have been shelved.

THE asked the QAA, which says it has "good knowledge" of the private sector, what proportion of private providers with designated courses it assessed.

A spokeswoman said there were 94 private providers with designated courses listed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010- 11.

The spokeswoman said that of those private providers, six were "due to be assessed in the next cycle" of the QAA's institutional review. …

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