Press Release: IHE Survey 2018 – Time for an SME approach to higher education


The Independent Higher Education Survey 2018 released today (27 November) makes clear that independent higher education providers are committed to the new regulatory system but do not yet feel the government has created the level playing field they sought to achieve with the Higher Education and Research Act. Over 50% had already registered with the Office for Students, although the registration framework still remains a challenge for those providers least like a traditional publicly funded university.

Over 100 respondents shared information about their students, qualifications and missions as well as their thoughts on the key issues for the higher education sector today. There was strong support for changes to the funding system which would see more students gaining access to the right funding for them, but opposition to proposals to tinker around the edges with fee and loan caps. There was strong opposition to Brexit with providers expressing concern for the future recruitment of students and staff from the EU.

The Universities Minister Sam Gyimah and the rest of the Government have pledged to support new providers to enter the higher education sector, recognising the benefits that expanding choice and competition bring to students, and the innovation which can result from new ideas and new approaches. New providers will start small, as will the kind of genuine innovation which results from experimenting with different models of teaching and learning. That makes it essential that the new regulatory system does not discriminate against small providers or disadvantage the students who choose to study in them.

The results of the IHE Survey set out starkly the financial penalty that the proposed fee bands for the Office for Students will impose on students who opt for one of these new and innovative small providers. Whereas a student at a large traditional university will pay just £5 per year towards the direct cost of regulation, one who goes to an independent college with between 100 and 300 students (the most common size band in the independent sector) will pay £120 per year, while someone who chooses the most specialist provision at a provider with less than 25 higher education students could see £700 of their tuition fee go straight into the budget of the regulator and its designated bodies.

The annual Independent Higher Education Survey 2018 shares the key characteristics of independent providers of higher education including size, courses, students, missions and corporate forms. Alongside their thoughts and ideas on the pressing issues for higher education today, the survey also looks at their plans and concerns for the future. View the survey at: weblink.

IHE Chief Executive, Alex Proudfoot said:

“The government recognises the positive impact on quality, innovation and student choice that new and independent providers have on the higher education sector. They need to recognise as well that these providers will start small, and many specialist institutions will never be the size of a traditional public university. It is not yet clear that the new regulatory system in England will genuinely support small providers and enable them to flourish.”

“The cost of regulation remains a major concern for our members. At a time when value for money is a priority for everyone in higher education, the Office for Students and their designated bodies must be sure of delivering value for the money which individual students pay towards registration fees and associated costs.”

“It cannot be the Government’s intention that individual students should face a financial penalty for choosing small and independent providers which provide the very diversity they wish to promote. We need positive actions now to match the positive rhetoric. It’s time for an SME approach to higher education.”



For further information please contact:

Marie Clark, Director of External Relations, Independent HE

Email:; Phone: 020 3929 3370

Independent Higher Education is the UK membership organisation and national representative body for independent providers of higher education, professional training and pathways. Further information can be found at our website – We can also be found on Twitter @independent_HE.

The Independent Higher Education Survey 2018 was supported by QAA. QAA is the UK’s independent quality body for higher education.

  • On 27th November 2018