IHE Press Release: proposals to government in response to Covid-19

IHE Press Release: proposals to government in response to Covid-19

Government must act to preserve student choice and a diverse higher education sector to drive economic recovery

Independent Higher Education (IHE) has today published Preserving student choice and a diverse higher education sector through 2020-21 – proposals to government in response to Covid-19.

The independent higher education sector, a diverse group of specialist providers whose students contribute over £1 billion to the UK economy, has proposed a package of measures to preserve student choice and drive economic recovery by protecting vulnerable SME providers.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly severe and immediate for independent higher education providers, the majority of whom are SMEs and lack the diversified revenue base and multiple streams of government funding of larger traditional universities. A recent survey by their representative body Independent Higher Education found that 64% say Covid-19 will make a significant negative impact on their financial sustainability in the next six months, with 10% saying they are at risk of closure or insolvency.

The report sent from IHE to Universities Minister Michelle Donelan highlights the significant risk to the independent higher education sector, and urges the Government to preserve student choice through a series of mitigations and support for the whole sector, including these SME providers. These measures include:

  1. The introduction of a responsible admissions framework which balances the need for agility to respond to rapid economic shifts with stability measures where these support the student interest
  2. Position the UK as the flexible and forward-thinking destination of choice for international students now and in the future by:
    • Introducing the world’s first Blended Learning Visa for September 2020
    • Maximum flexibility for current and prospective students to the end of August
    • Maintaining the current arrangements for the funding and mobility of EU students to the end of 2021
  3. A range of financial support for SME higher education providers including:
    • Guarantee 100% of loans up to £500,000 to providers registered with the Office for Students
    • A rebate on all VAT paid on higher education tuition fees in 2019-20
    • Extend the 12-month Business Rates Holiday to cover shuttered specialist education premises
  4. Fast-tracking the introduction of a national skills fund for retraining economically displaced workers, centred around professional short courses
  5. Ensure new and existing providers have a route to access student loans and international visas through a properly resourced and available registration service from the Office for Students including a modified process this year.

Roxanne Stockwell, Chair of Independent Higher Education, said:

“ Our higher education sector is a complex ecosystem of provision with new approaches, start-ups and SME providers that sit alongside the traditional sector of larger providers. There is a real risk that in the rush to secure the more traditional universities that the SME providers, who add to the diversity of the sector, widen access to less well represented groups of students and provide a unique and responsive link to industry, are overlooked. Of particular concern is the proposal to impose a blanket or rigid approach to admissions in 2020. Student interest and the pressing need for an agile response from all providers must be at the heart of any agreed approach on admissions. ”

Alex Proudfoot, Chief Executive of Independent Higher Education, said:

“ Government has shown leadership by taking quick steps to protect our valued international students, but must now make bold strides to position the UK as the destination of choice for education in the years ahead. By embracing online and blended learning, helping the students who are here to stay and continue their studies, and trusting our education institutions with their own admissions decisions, the UK can demonstrate the flexibility and supportive approach that students will demand in an uncertain world. ”

“ SMEs form the backbone of the UK economy and are essential to the success of so many industries. Higher education is no different and SME providers enrich the sector in countless ways, but right now they need their government to step in. The measures we are proposing today are modest by comparison to other calls on the public purse but would transform the ability of SME and independent higher education providers to play their full part in rebuilding the industries they work with and the wider UK economy. ”

“ Now more than ever, independent and SME providers need a regulator whose actions demonstrate it is truly committed to supporting diversity and choice in the higher education sector. We are deeply concerned that the Office for Students has chosen this moment to suspend the registration process they are required by law to carry out, but which had already ground almost to a halt. Just when the economy needs the flexible and career-focused courses that independent providers offer, OfS are shutting the door and leaving many overlooked and underrepresented groups of students out in the cold. ”


  1. Independent Higher Education is a UK membership organisation and formal representative body which exists to support, develop and promote independent providers of higher education, professional training and pathways.
  2. Independent Higher Education’s 54 members include household names such as the Royal Academy and Le Cordon Bleu, long established independent colleges Spurgeon’s College and City & Guilds of London Art School, industry leading technical institutes Futureworks and Met Film School and global education pathway providers Kaplan and Study Group.
  3. A few facts and figures about SME higher education:
    • 89% of the independent higher education sector are SMEs; 19% of these are Micro and 49% are Small
    • 42% of SME HE providers offer FE, short courses or CPD alongside their Undergraduate provision
    • Students at SME HE providers contribute over £1 billion to the economy through fees and spending
  • On 1st May 2020