SME Manifesto for Higher Education 2019

IHE published its SME Manifesto for Higher Education, calling on the next government to unlock the potential of SME HE providers to drive innovation, meet local training needs and boost adult learning opportunities across a range of industries.

SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy and essential for the success of so many industries. For SMEs to thrive in higher education and compete on a truly level playing field, we need to look afresh at a complex system of funding, regulation and support designed for larger universities and rebuild it from the ground up. This manifesto is the first step in doing so.

Our proposals are shaped by SME HE providers themselves, who have told us what support would have a positive impact on their businesses and on the students who choose to learn with them.


The manifesto calls for the next government to support SMEs in HE including:

  • The appointment of an SME Champion for Higher Education to support the development of HE SMEs
  • Build on the International Education Strategy with a dedicated HE SME export plan
  • HE Start-up Loans to kickstart provision which meets skills needs and regional cold spots
  • Require SME impact assessments for all HE regulation to help contain its cost and burden
  • Fix the broken validation system to bring costs down and the support for innovation up

Read the full SME Manifesto here: IHE SME HE Manifesto 2019

Read the press release on the launch of the SME Manifesto for Higher Education.

Read IHE’s Chief Executive, Alex Proudfoot’s blog on Wonkhe about the SME manifesto for HE.


Support for an SME model for higher education

The Rt Hon Jo Johnson, former Universities Minister (2015-2018), said:

“ British universities are known as giants on the world stage but some of the most exciting higher education today is being offered by small providers with big ideas. As Universities Minister I saw first-hand the energy and entrepreneurial spirit which can be unlocked when government removes the barriers to innovation.

“ IHE have been at the leading edge of reform in recent years and I commend their SME Manifesto for Higher Education for its practical policies and fresh ideas on how best to support a thriving educational ecosystem in the UK. The next government would do well to take note. ”

Lord Bilimoria CBE, Vice President, CBI, and President, UKCISA

“Small universities and colleges are often overlooked and taken for granted in Britain. Like SMEs in other industries they can be at the forefront of creativity and innovation, and leaders in education within their industry or specialism. Perhaps more so than other sectors, where entrepreneurism is celebrated, they can also be held back by negative perceptions including excessive regulation. Government investment in small universities and colleges would go far to challenge this trend, and support growth in education which is more than an investment in higher education, it is an investment to transform Britain and the world for the better. Independent HE’s proposals for an SME Model for Higher Education are an important first step in this regard.”

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

“ This manifesto demonstrates SMEs in higher education are already doing many of the things all political parties are calling for higher education providers to deliver, including enabling closer links between HE and FE, offering different types of provision to support a wider range of students to enter higher education and building close links with industry. However, aspects of the current regulatory environment limit what these providers can offer to students. This manifesto sets out clear recommendations of how government could support SMEs in higher education to broaden the opportunities available for all students. ”

Eliza Bonham-Carter, Curator and Head of the Royal Academy Schools, said:

“ As a provider of postgraduate study in fine art to only 50 artist-students The Royal Academy Schools has exemplified the specialist excellence that SMEs represent in higher education in the UK for over 250 years. We would welcome government support to address the challenge set by current regulatory requirements which are designed with much larger institutions in mind. ”

Will Hunter, Founder and Director of the London School of Architecture, said:

“ SMEs form the vast proportion of architectural practices and SME higher education providers are a natural fit. Our small size and focus allows us an innovative approach and a much closer integration with the profession, but it can also place immense barriers to growth.

“ IHE’s SME Manifesto proposes that we get the same support that government offers to SMEs in other sectors. This should rightly start by understanding the positive impact we make to the UK economy, and the challenges we face in a regulated environment which is neither proportionate nor supportive to SMEs. If the next government is serious about expanding student choice and delivering industry-led education it must support SMEs to be part of the regulated HE sector and access all its benefits. ”

Sharona Friedman, Chief Marketing Officer, of UCFB, said:

“ UCFB has always sought to expand its offer in the UK and overseas, bringing its unique brand of business and sport education to the world. With the passion of our board, staff and students we have managed to forge our own relationships within the UK and abroad and have achieved huge successes over the past eight years.

“ The ideas in the SME Manifesto for Higher Education would support our growth and the growth of others who want to follow in our footsteps. This is growth that students and industry stakeholders demand. In order to seize all the opportunities and do it well, SMEs need a little support and a spirit of partnership from government.

“ The cost and burden of regulation has often thrown up barriers to our growth, but we would relish an opportunity to work alongside IHE within a government partnership framework that helps us and others like us to flourish. ”