Independent Providers Shut Out by Sector Agency Review

This is a response to the report from the review group chaired by Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, and endorsed by UUK and GuildHE, into higher education sector agencies. The report can be found here.

Independent Higher Education has responded to the publication of the final report from Sir David Bell’s review group on UK higher education sector agencies. We remain concerned that the report makes no attempt to consider the relevance and suitability of agencies and their services to the broader range of providers which now operate in the higher education sector, and this reflects the failure of the review group to consult even once over its several months of work with external stakeholders such as Independent Higher Education.

Following the report’s recommendations, independent providers (which from 2019 are due to be regulated in exactly the same way as traditional publicly funded universities) will continue to be excluded from the governance of these essential agencies, even while increasing numbers of students choose to study with them and they are required to pay for the same services as members of Universities UK and GuildHE. Further education colleges will also continue to be excluded from the governance of most sector agencies, undervaluing their critical importance to the regional and affordable availability of higher education. Conversely, the report discusses the “enhanced governance and oversight role by UUK and GuildHE” as “key members of sector agencies”, further entrenching these two bodies’ control of the strategy and policies of the agencies which exist to serve the whole sector.

Independent Higher Education is the UK representative body for independent providers of higher education, and the only organisation with the necessary knowledge and proven ability to represent their interests through constructive engagement with Government and agencies. Our members are an important and growing segment of the higher education sector and serve the needs of a diverse student population, including many groups underrepresented at traditional universities. A clear role for independent providers in the governance of all sector agencies is essential to ensuring that the interests of these students and the choices they make are supported by the sector’s regulatory architecture.

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

“It is deeply disappointing that this once-in-a-generation review fails to address the most urgent challenge which all agencies face: how to remain relevant in a rapidly diversifying higher education sector and respond to a diverse range of needs.

“At a time when the Government is articulating an ambitious and dynamic vision for the future of UK higher education, publicly funded universities appear to be stuck in the past. It is striking that ‘alternative providers’ are mentioned just once in this 15,000-word report, and it is clear that their needs and the needs of their students have been given scant consideration.

“In England, independent (or ‘alternative’) providers already outnumber public universities, and they are looking to these sector agencies to support their development, prove their commitment to quality and give students and staff the assurances they deserve.

“Independent Higher Education has led the way in encouraging independent providers to engage pro-actively with both the mandatory and voluntary elements of the sector’s regulatory framework. But too much of it is still unavailable or fundamentally ill-suited to them – a dispiriting but predictable result of the failure to involve us in the governance and design of shared services.

“The risk of entrenching this divide between traditional public universities and independent providers is that many will feel shut out of important developmental activities and opt out of the regulatory framework entirely. This would be bad for providers, bad for students, and ultimately bad for UK higher education.”

  • On 31st January 2017