DfE Visits Independent HE members

Representatives from the Department for Education have visited a number of Independent HE members, as part of a joint learning initiative to encourage a better understanding of independent providers of higher education. Visits to Futureworks, Sotheby’s Institute of Art and the London School of Business and Management have occurred over the past month with more planned.

The visits have presented us with an invaluable opportunity to showcase the unique student offer and contextualise the challenges our providers face through regulation. The visits have given Independent HE member institutions and staff from across DfE’s teams the chance to learn from each other, which has become especially important in light of the single regulatory system which will be introduced with the Higher Education and Research Bill.

DfE staff were given a full tour of Futurework’s state of the art facilities in Manchester on 16 February. This included an in-depth look at their music studios and high-spec production facilities, where they offer degrees and training in sound, music, film & TV, games, animation and visual effects. The vocational provision offered by providers such as Futureworks is a key part of the independent higher education sector, which DfE staff were given the opportunity to experience hands-on. Their focus on affordability for students as a regional hub for media education and providing more industry experience than your typical university degree featured in the visit.

On 6 March a further two visits took place, the first of which took DfE staff to Sotheby’s Institute of Art (SIA). Attendees were given an insight in to the unique programmes offered by SIA, including their Master’s degrees in Art Business and Fine and Decorative Art and Design. Attendees were given a hands-on practical demonstration of the distinctive object-focused approach of the Institute, which gives their students the opportunity to handle art works from day one of teaching. DfE staff also heard that SIA offer full scholarships to selected students and financial aid to a large number of others. In total around 45% of their 150 students have received some form of bursary to study, highlighting their commitment to encouraging a diverse student body and the opportunity for social mobility. As with many independent providers, SIA has very close ties with industry and ensures that every student experiences this. With frequent networking opportunities and almost weekly visits to galleries and auction houses students not only gain invaluable employability skills, but establish contacts which will help them achieve their future careers.

Following this visit, DfE staff were given a tour of the facilities at The London School of Business and Management, including their new Centre for Student Engagement Wellbeing and Success which provides students with a dedicated hub of support. DfE staff heard that LSBM has changed the academic structure of its courses to cater for the significant proportion of widening participation students that they have. Their move from the 20 credit system used by the validator of their Degree, to a semester system with fewer courses at once, was designed specifically for their student population of predominantly students from widening participation backgrounds.

Their small size has enabled them to respond quickly to student feedback. When their large number of student parents found it difficult to make early morning classes due to child care, they changed their lecture start times to accommodate. When students were feeling isolated in the new higher education environment they created a now highly developed peer group system, which allows students to seek support from their fellow students throughout the academic year. They now use this to also support returning students who have previously struggled to succeed.

The visits so far have been a great success and a vital learning opportunity for both independent providers and DfE staff, and we are very grateful to our members for their help in organising them. A further visit to the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guilford is also planned for the 10 March.

  • On 8th March 2017