‘Hogwarts’ degree-awarding powers need spelling out

Universities are too focused on students who go “punting on the Wear or the Cam”, while gaining degree-awarding powers is cloaked in magical secrecy.

Magician's hat and wand

Those were the suggestions of Nick Davy, higher education policy manager at the Association of Colleges, who criticised sector policymakers for failing to create incentives to innovate when he spoke at a conference in London on 11 July.

Mr Davy said that higher education institutions were focused around the three-year, residential degree as “that is how you maximise your income” under the present system.

However, the model was “culturally inappropriate” for some students, he told the Competition and Diversity in UK Higher Education conference, a Westminster Higher Education Forum event.

Mr Davy said there would be plenty of people in the conference audience who went to the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham and had wanted to spend their time “punting on the Wear or the Cam”.

But he added: “When I go to Grimsby and Bradford they don’t want to do that – surprise, surprise.”

Using a Harry Potter reference, Mr Davy also said the process for gaining taught degree awarding powers should be made clearer so it is no longer “like Hogwarts, not like a magic thing”.

And he said the Russell Group should be warned that “enough is enough” on fair access. Mr Davy added that the institutions should be told: “You have an access and widening participation mission – if you don’t meet it there are sanctions.”

Libby Hackett, the chief executive of the University Alliance mission group, suggested that students at for-profit providers should have access to government loans.

But “those government loans do not need to be subsidised loans”, she said. “There are some questions about lines in the sand about access to public funding [for] for-profit providers.”

However, Roxanne Stockwell, principal of for-profit Pearson College, said: “We don’t actually want subsidies.”

She criticised the government’s system of controls on student places for alternative providers as it did not give entrants scope to enter the market, because the cap will be based on existing student numbers.

Michael MacNeil, head of higher education at the University and College Union, said the example of the US – where accrediting bodies are now acting tougher on for-profits – showed that the English regulation system must take specific account of the “risks” posed by commercial providers.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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