IHE’s annual survey of the independent higher education sector

The 2019 Independent Higher Education Survey was launched at our Annual Conference in November 2019. The third year of the survey provided a fascinating snapshot of a sector in continued evolution and how providers are adapting to the new regulatory environment many of them are now part of.


The Independent Higher Education Survey 2019

The 2019 Independent Higher Education Survey is the third iteration of the UK’s only survey of this diverse and unique part of the education sector. Yet again the Office for Students (OfS) remains the most significant issue for many providers, both those who have or intend to register and those facing the consequences of the creation of the new regulator. 21% of those who applied to OfS remain without a decision, with many finding themselves ineligible to register at all.

Read the full report here: The Independent Higher Education Survey 2019

Respondents (82) gave insight on their students, qualifications, missions and corporate forms, including if they qualified as an SME. The issue of size dominated the survey, having the single largest impact on responses across the issues discussed including student funding, higher technical education, student welfare and of course the Office for Students. Independent HE providers expressed strong concerns with their experience registering for OfS, citing issues with delays, poor communication and inadequate guidance. Those with innovative programmes or delivery face the most significant challenges fitting into regulation, funding, metrics and for the first time the IHE Survey explored the size and nature of staff at independent providers, finding that many relied heavily on contracted staff as part of their teaching team. Respondents with a specific industry or professional mission are just as likely to hire contract staff as full-time staff, and those with a mission of encouraging the arts are twice as likely.

Key survey findings include:

  • 89% of independent higher education providers are SMEs, with 17% of all those who responded indicating they were Micro providers.
  • Contract staff make up almost 40% of the staff at independent HE providers, and the largest portion of non-UK staff.
  • 79% of survey respondents offer alternative delivery models for higher education, with almost 40% offering evening or weekend learning.
  • 72% of those who responded teach undergraduate degree courses with 11% of all providers teaching at least one accelerated degree course.
  • More providers teach level 4 (34%) than Level 5 (26%), and 15% of providers offer a pre-Masters programme.
  • For the first time in 2019, more providers had received a full TEF award (Gold/Silver/Bronze) (34%) than a Provisional TEF Award (10%).
  • Only 45% of the providers responding have successfully registered with the OfS, despite 64% of providers in 2017 and 71% of providers indicating they would or had already registered with the Office for Students.
  • There was strong support for continued funding of foundation year programmes but respondents were less sure about proposals for a free National Education Service from cradle to grave as proposed by the Labour Party.
  • 75% of respondents see student mental health and student welfare as strategic priorities at their institution.
  • In 2018 50% of independent providers did not intend to apply for DAPs, in 2019 this rises to 79%

The Independent Higher Education Survey 2019 asked more detailed questions about the Office for Students, SME perspectives and other areas which will feature in future reports and policy work by Independent HE throughout 2020.

Government departments or organisations seeking more information or detail from the survey please send requests to info@independenthe.com.