IHE’s annual survey of the independent higher education sector

The 2018 Independent Higher Education Survey was launched at our Annual Conference in November 2018. The second year of the survey provided a fascinating snapshot of a sector in considerable change but looking ahead positively to the unprecedented opportunities represented by the reforms of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.


The Independent Higher Education Survey 2018

The 2018 Independent Higher Education Survey 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.

Read the full report here: The Independent Higher Education Survey 2018

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 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.

Key survey findings include:

  • 65% of survey respondents provide validated degrees and over 30% deliver their own qualifications.
  • 47% of respondents were a charity, part of a charity or a not-for-profit company and 25% would be eligible for exempt charity status with the Office for Students. One third of providers were part of a larger entity.
  • Where in 2017 there was much uncertainty, in 2018 over half the providers that responded have already applied to register with the OfS and 20% plan to register by July 2018. However, there remains a significant proportion of providers who are still unsure if they can register.
  • There was strong support for changes to extend and approve funding as part of the Post 18 Funding Review, but opposition to proposals to make small changes to the current system.
  • Recruitment of students and staff is the single largest issue reported by respondents.
  • Only 10% of those who offered comments noted an opportunity in Brexit.
  • 56% of respondents said that VAT exemption would allow them to spend more on student learning and outcomes, and 49% said that this would give them greater financial stability.
  • 36% said that VAT exemption would also allow them to invest more in widening access and opportunity.

Click here to read the press release from the launch of the 2018 Independent Higher Education Survey.