To be published as HC 885-vii

House of COMMONS



Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

The Future of Higher Education

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Professor Carl Lygo, Valery Kisilevsky and

Professor Terence Kealey

ROB BEHRENS, ANTHONY MCCLARAN and Professor Steve Bristow

Evidence heard in Public Questions 551 - 609



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

on Tuesday 24 May 2011

Members present:

Mr Adrian Bailey (Chair)

Katy Clark

Rebecca Harris

Margot James

Dan Jarvis

Simon Kirby

Mr David Ward

Nadhim Zahawi


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Carl Lygo, Chief Executive, BPP Holdings & Principal, BPP University College of Professional Studies Ltd, Professor Terence Kealey, Vice Chancellor, University of Buckingham, and Mr Valery Kisilevsky, Group Managing Director, London School of Business and Finance, gave evidence.

Q551 Chair : Good morning and thank you for agreeing to appear before the Committee. Just a couple of preliminary announcements: first, we are on a fairly tight timetable, so can I stress that not every member of the panel is obliged to answer all the questions in detail? However, if there is something that another member says and you feel that you either need to contradict or amend, you are free to do so. For voice transcription purposes, will you introduce yourselves and give us your particular professional position?

Terence Kealey: I am Terence Kealey; I am the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham.

Valery Kisilevsky: My name is Valery Kisilevsky and I am the Group Managing Director of the London School of Business and Finance.

Carl Lygo: I am Carl Lygo; I am the Principal of BPP University College.

Q552 Chair : Thank you very much. I will start with the first question, which is really on private provision in the UK. There is not actually a definition of a private higher education provider. Could you just tell me what you think are the defining characteristics of such a provider, as opposed to those of perceived state universities?

Terence Kealey: Every higher education provider in Britain is fully private and every higher education provider in Britain is fully independent. The differences are that those of the Royal Charters, in the main, have chosen to sign financial memoranda with a funding council, which therefore brings obligations as well as money from the Government. We, however, are a royal chartered institution, like all the others a charity with the Royal Charter, with a Chancellor-we are members of UUK and all the rest of it-who have chosen not to sign such a financial memorandum. If we wished to, HEFCE I am sure would be interested, and many institutions in recent years have done so. Equally, if an institution like the London School of Economics choose not to, as it nearly did 10 years ago, that is permissible.

On the other hand, you have the forprofit sector, which is a completely legitimate sector but completely different in that, unlike ourselves-we are charities-these people are owned by shareholders and their task is to perform a good service for the students on behalf of shareholders. We are charities that choose not to take Government money. Although we have complete respect for the forprofit sector, it is a completely different animal.

Chair : Thank you. Have either of the other two panellists anything they wish to add to that? It seemed a fairly concise summary of the situation.

Carl Lygo: I think there is a subcategory as well. There are private providers that are degreeawarding bodies. There is the post2004 group, where you have four providers that are UK degreeawarding bodies, and are therefore subject to the higher regulation of the Quality Assurance Agency directly. Then you have some 690 or so private colleges in the UK that are not directly regulated by the QAA. There is a distinction there as well.

Q553 Chair : Can I just follow this up? If you were a prospective student, leaving aside the issues of the currently unregulated fees, why would you, as a student, not want to choose private higher education?

Carl Lygo: I will use BPP as an example, because obviously BPP is a model that I know. If you are a student who wants a researchintensive university, if you are a student who wants a fullservice, campusbased university lifestyle, then you probably would not choose BPP. BPP is very career-focused; it invests in the things that we believe are important for teaching excellence in a careerfocused environment. There is a very distinct mission in comparison with what I might describe as the publicly funded sector.

Valery Kisilevsky: If I might add to that, students today, particularly on undergraduate courses, who are interested in receiving Government funding in the form of student loans would probably not choose a private provider because, under the current arrangements, they will not be eligible to draw on student finance.

Carl Lygo: That is not quite true actually.

Chair: It has been changed, of course.

Carl Lygo: There are around 6,000 students who receive student loan support even under the existing system, on designated courses provided that your programme is designated, and about 6,000 students from private providers. It is an area that is a bit opaque and obscure, so it is not surprising that the whole of the private sector does not know about that particular source of potential funding.

Q554 Dan Jarvis: Good morning. Forprofit higher education providers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders. I am wondering how that can best be reconciled with any proposal to give them direct access to a limited pot of public funding.

Carl Lygo: I think it is a subsidiary purpose. If you ask people at BPP, our dominant purpose is to provide highquality education for all, within our mission statement. It makes us efficient because we are a forprofit, and that provides a discipline that you do not see commonly in the sector. I think the focus on providing a return for shareholders obscures the dominant position. Looking at me, I am an educationalist in business; I am not a businessman in education. The dominant purpose is to provide highquality education.

Q555 Katy Clark: There has been a great deal of concern about the US forprofit model. Do you think what we are talking about is importing that style of education into this country and, if not, what do you think is being proposed?

Carl Lygo: The system in the United Kingdom is very different; it is a very different model from the United States. The regulation of the UK sector is very different. I am in a unique position, being owned by a US parent, to see the differences between the US and the UK. We have much more control by the academic peer group in the UK. The external examiner system does not operate in the US. I have something like 39 different UK universities represented within the governance structure of BPP. It is a very different environment from the US, and also the US forprofit sector is probably dominated by those who are seeking to serve the openaccess sector, and that is dominated by the Open University in the UK. It is a very different provision. If you look at the type of student that I have at BPP, it is the ABC1s, so highquality students who are going on to highquality jobs.

It is a very different model in the UK from the US, and what I would say to the panel members here is that we have to make sure that we maintain a strong regulatory role for the Quality Assurance Agency across the whole of the private sector. At the moment, I am sitting in a team of four private-sector providers that are directly regulated by the QAA, while the 690 or so that are not degreeawarding bodies are not being directly regulated. It is quite important that we have that level playing field, as I describe it, as we go forward.

Valery Kisilevsky: I would like to echo Carl’s statement that we need a level playing field and a common regulatory framework for all providers of higher education in the UK. Some well-publicised risks and failures are associated with the US model. LSBF is a fully British owned company and we take great pride in that and in the fact that we are actively engaging with the Government here to advocate one common regulatory framework. There is greater room for the Quality Assurance Agency to impose a uniform regulatory framework for the sector in the UK, which would help avoid many of the pitfalls that have become known in recent years in the US.

Q556 Dan Jarvis: How you think the private higher education sector would react to requirements to publish the same amount of information that is routinely made available by the public sector? I am thinking about things like being subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the public QAA reports and publishing a standard key information set.

Carl Lygo: First, not everybody is directly regulated by the QAA, so they will not be able to provide a QAA inspection report. At BPP, we decided to publish our QAA inspection report, so we would have no problem with that. Being directly regulated by the QAA means that, from next year, you will have to provide all that information anyway. For those of us in that small group, in the post-2004 group, it is not going to pose a problem. The question is what you do about the rest of the sector, whether they comply with it and what the sanction would be if they do not. For BPP, if we do not comply with the requirements of the QAA, we do not have our degree powers renewed and that is pretty unique. There are only four providers that have degreeawarding powers for a limited period of time, so that is a unique power. Certainly on behalf of the post2004 group, we would respond positively to that.

Valery Kisilevsky: At LSBF, we represent the mainstream of the private higher education sector, one of those 690 colleges Carl referred to. I believe that most of the providers in this large and diverse group would actually welcome moves for greater transparency and standardisation of the information that will be available to students. We believe that our role is to provide greater choice and better options for students, and to deliver better value and better outcomes for students. The only way to do so credibly is for students to be able to evaluate that using a common framework and common methodology. Again, to do so, we will probably need a common regulatory framework, which will encompass the entire higher education sector-public and private.

Q557 Dan Jarvis: Finally from me, can I ask you what contact you have had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the impact of the Higher Education White Paper on your sector?

Terence Kealey: We are in regular contact with David Willetts. He had a couple of meetings earlier this year with representatives from all the nonHEFCEfunded institutions. I do not want to be pedantic-I am not trying to be offensive or in any way rude-but the word ‘private’ is misleading. Oxford is private, you understand. The question is whether they are publicly funded or not, but they are all private, and most of the money that the socalled public institutions get these days is increasingly private anyway. The distinction is forprofit, or whether you are a charity and not HEFCEfunded, as we are. As I said, David Willetts had two such meetings at BIS earlier this year. They were very useful but we have no idea what is going to come out of them.

Q558 Chair : Just before I bring Nadhim Zahawi in, could I ask Mr Kisilevsky, is your accreditation report to the BAC actually published?

Valery Kisilevsky: Yes it is. The BAC has moved, I believe last year, to publish its accreditation reports. Until last year, they were not in the public domain; they are now in the public domain, yes.

Q559 Nadhim Zahawi: In 2009, Universities UK’s report on the private higher education sector recommended that the Government establish better channels of communication with the private higher education sector. Are you aware of any action taken in this area?

Terence Kealey: Not on my part, no.

Carl Lygo: Certainly since 2009, I think we have had a lot more engagement with both flavours of Government. Without there being a representative body, I have seen a lot more activity-individual meetings and being part of roundtable discussions-since 2009.

Valery Kisilevsky: I am not aware of any direct measures taken by the Government. We have written to Mr Willetts as part of the consultation on the White Paper, and one of the things that we emphasised is the contribution that the private sector can make in bringing innovation to the higher education sector, and we called again for a common, better, uniform regulatory framework for the entire sector.

Q560 Nadhim Zahawi: Is there a reason why you have not developed a single representative voice?

Terence Kealey: I can answer that. I try very hard to bring together, and I hope this time I will be successful, about six institutions like ourselves-charitable, with Royal Charters, providing independent higher education without Government funding. For example, Regents College is one; Richmond University is another. There are a number of them. I am trying to bring those six together and I think this time we will, because our collective turnover is well over £100 million. We are also members of the Association of Independent Higher Education Providers, which is a group of people like Valery’s organisation, which are forprofits accredited by other people. Then there is Carl’s organisation of four-I do not know if they come together-which are the forprofits with degreeawarding powers, and I think they work together as well.

Carl Lygo: They are not forprofits; three of them are charities. The reason why BPP is different is that 96% of our students are UK based. We identify more with the traditional UK sector and, at the moment, the representative bodies of the traditional UK sector do not offer access to the forprofits. When they do, I will be delighted to join, but other representative bodies, which are seeking really to lobby the UK Border Agency, do not interest us.

Terence Kealey: Buckingham is, of course, in UUK.

Q561 Nadhim Zahawi: Private higher education in the UK tends to be focused on business management and law qualifications, although private institutions overseas offer a much wider range of subjects. Do you anticipate the private sector in the UK moving into other subject areas-humanities, arts-or developing research capacities?

Terence Kealey: Can I just talk about us six independents that are charities? I believe, and I very much welcome the opportunity to say this to you because I hope you will take this back to Parliament, that the big gap in British higher education is that we do not have an Ivy League. The great universities in the world are in the American Ivy League, and it is enormously powerful and useful for America to have an Ivy League because of the soft power-here we are in a political context-that is projected by Harvard and Yale. It has a big influence on America’s impact on the world, because of these stellar institutions. We do not have an Ivy League.

An Ivy League can be very clearly defined. An Ivy League university is an independent institution, completely independent at the level of undergraduate teaching. They are independent like Buckingham, so to speak, but they have a very close and fully funded relationship with Government research funding agencies. If we wanted an Ivy League in Britain, and I hope that your Committee would seriously consider advocating that, we would have institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, for example, being completely independent at the level of undergraduate teaching, but the QR money, which at the moment is given by HEFCE in response to RAE, now REF, would be eligible for non-HEFCEfunded institutions. Under those circumstances, you then have a British Ivy League-i.e. fully funded undergraduate teaching and fully funded research.

Now, we at Buckingham have a wide range of courses, and here it is much easier for us than for the forprofit sector. We have a faculty of humanities, a faculty of social sciences. I am a biochemist; we have a very active biochemistry department at Buckingham with grants of more than £1 million a year in this tiny institution. Buckingham is a plural university, but our lives would be so much easier at Buckingham if you, as a group, were to advocate to Government and to Parliament allowing the Buckinghams to have access to QR money without having to subject themselves to all the regulatory framework of HEFCE. Why not follow the Harvard/Yale/Princeton model? I think the forprofits can speak for themselves. It would be jolly hard for them to have plural institutions, but we at Buckingham aspire, and we are definitely moving towards, the Ivy League model. Government could help, by helping us the way the American Government helps the American Ivy League: independence but full research funding.

Nadhim Zahawi: I think you made that point well, Professor.

Carl Lygo: Certainly we have aspirations to make a wider subject offering than we currently make, which is business, law and health. In fact, my parent group has successfully run universities in arts, communications and wider health subjects, so that is certainly the aspiration for BPP. We are researchactive, but it is fair to say that we are teachingled and we are not following the researchintensive path. We would not seek any Government funding to support our research-that money can be better spent elsewhere-but we are researchactive. We spend about £600,000 each year on scholarships for students so that they do not have to pay any fees whatsoever. We have granted 100 full scholarships in this academic year alone, and we prefer to put our funding into those areas to help students access those kinds of business areas that we offer.

Q562 Nadhim Zahawi: Valery, in your written submission you talk about the ability of LSBF to innovate quickly in response to changing demands from students and employers, yet we heard from the universities that capacitybuilding in a new area takes a long time in the publicly-funded HE sector. How does LSBF manage to do it so quickly?

Valery Kisilevsky: It is an excellent question. One of the ways in which we are able to innovate so quickly is through greater involvement of industry in the design and delivery of our programmes. We have advisory panels with quite a big representation from industry across all our programmes, and we make a point of updating them regularly. That is a key point for us, because the employability of our graduates is a key indicator for us in terms of the success of our programmes and our delivery.

On top of that, being a younger technologyled organisation, we have introduced quite a lot of innovation in the form of delivery of our programmes, by offering students complete flexibility and choice between traditional classroombased delivery modes, online delivery modes and a blending of the two, whereby students can start studying a programme, let’s say at our Manchester campus, continue it online if they go on secondments overseas, and then come back to head office in London, etc, and still study the same programme. I would say it is through technology and the involvement of industry.

Q563 Nadhim Zahawi: Mr Lygo, in an interview with The Guardian, you talked about actively poaching teaching staff from the public sector.

Carl Lygo: Did I?

Nadhim Zahawi: Do you anticipate greater direct competition between private and public higher education, and what effect do you think that will have on UK higher education as a whole?

Carl Lygo: I know for a fact that many universities are laying off good academic staff and they are beating a path to my door. I joined BPP from the public sector, and I did so because I have a passion for teaching, not particularly a passion for research. I wanted to be in an environment that supported teaching and highquality teaching. I think there is opportunity for all, and I do not think the impact of BPP in the sector is going to be negative-quite the contrary: it is going to drive up standards. It already has driven standards up in the postgraduate sector in which we operate.

Q564 Nadhim Zahawi: Do you think that the private sector is interested in taking over public universities, which will struggle to compete?

Carl Lygo: Absolutely. There are ways of doing this. BPP has teamed up with a further education college in Swindon to leverage the fixed cost base of that operation and BPP’s operation to offer a lowerpriced degree alternative for people who live locally in Swindon. That is a good example. We are talking to other colleges, which obviously I cannot talk about for commercial confidentiality reasons, about the opportunity of working together. Usually it is trying to reduce the unnecessary fixed costs, so that you can deliver a better outcome for the learner. That is not in any way reducing the level of teaching contact. In fact, quite the contrary; it is investing more money in the teaching, so that there is more teaching, which is the biggest issue that parents and students talk about. They want more contact with the tutor in the classroom.

Q565 Nadhim Zahawi: Can I just push you on that one? Can you just enlighten the Committee? What are those unnecessary fixed costs?

Carl Lygo: We did an exercise with a couple of private providers on the published cost base of universities, and we thought that, if you put nonteaching faculty and all the backoffice costs through a proper procurement exercise, you could save about 20% to 25% of that cost base. I am not trying to decry the efforts of the finance teams within universities, but there are ways of achieving those costs that do not diminish the quality of what you are doing, and they do not necessarily have the means to do that. A great bit of the work that I have been doing for the last year has been going round to various interest groups in the public sector and telling them about our model, and how we drive out those unnecessary costs. In this kind of environment, there are cost savings to be had from the way in which you procure your peripherals.

Q566 Chair : Just before I bring Margot in, just to jog your memory, Mr Lygo, I think this is The Guardian on Friday 15 April: "Will you be poaching good teachers from the non-private sector?" "Yes, absolutely. We already do in our narrow fields of law and business." I won’t go on.

Carl Lygo: I was poached 14 years ago. I hope I was a good teacher then.

Q567 Chair : Could I just ask Professor Kealey, would Buckingham be interested in taking over any, if you like, perceived failing public higher education institutions?

Terence Kealey: Very much, but I think it is important to understand what we think a university is about at Buckingham. We think universities should, in the main, be run as mutuals in the traditional academic selfgovernance way, because we think that it is very important to teach and we are very proud, of course, at Buckingham of the National Student Survey. Of course we think teaching is very important, but ultimately the university has to be a centre of unfettered scholarship, where scholars are free to do research almost in a Mertonian way-those Mertonian norms of scholarship. That is why, incidentally, we at Buckingham were created independent of the state, because we feel there is an awful lot of selfcensorship in the publicfunded sector, which only emerges if you look for it; it can be overlooked.

But yes, I would love the opportunity of Buckingham being able to work with another "failing publicly funded institution" to try to spread the Buckingham model. What is the Buckingham model? The Buckingham model is putting the student first and coming top of the National Student Survey every single year. At the same time, you foster a deep sense of collegiality as a selfgoverning academic institution. You also prioritise research and scholarship, because ultimately you believe a university on the Ivy League model has to be independent to foster scholarship. I would love to see the Buckingham model spread.

Q568 Margot James: Do your staff and students currently have access to the various services like JANET, JISC and SCONUL?

Carl Lygo: Some. It depends on whether the forprofit sector is permitted to subscribe to those. I believe that we do have access to the ones that you referred to. We certainly have an extensive set of research materials that are available and, when we gained the degreeawardingpower status, the QAA reviewed all the access that we had. Often we have to make alternative provision-at twice the cost, in some cases.

Q569 Margot James: You would be interested in having full access.

Carl Lygo: It is a really peculiar thing where the forprofit sector has been left out, and it is only because the forprofit sector is BPP, I guess, and is a degreeawarding body. It is breaking down the barriers at each stage. I am pretty confident we have access to those, but I would need to look.

Q570 Margot James: Would you be willing to pay for those services if you did not have them as of right?

Carl Lygo: I am a big believer that it should be a level playing field, so we should pay the same as everybody else. Obviously, I have just made the point about good procurement, so I would want to negotiate a fair price.

Margot James: Good for you. Thank you.

Valery Kisilevsky: At LSBF, our students have access to those services through UK universities with which we work in partnership, so our validating universities. It is quite peculiar, as Carl says, that the private sector is not allowed, for instance, access to the domain name, which is administered for JANET. There is no particular reasoning behind that-that is just the way it is.

Just to elaborate on that previous point around failing universities and working in partnership, when we are talking about the private sector taking over a failing university, I think it is quite important to be sensitive to the different models in which the private sector has been working and can work with publicsector universities. We have had great experience of working with different UK universities on their service provision, particularly in terms of teaching and also other areas, and there are a number of innovative models in which the private sector can integrate with the public universities to deliver better outcomes for students, which fall short of complete takeover. It is quite important to recognise that it is not a onceandforall solution that means that the private sector would assume complete control and ownership of a university.

Q571 Mr Ward: There are a number of questions on the widening participation agenda. You mentioned the scholarships that are on offer, but the general question is really about what support is available through discounts, bursaries and scholarships, as you mentioned, for all the organisations that you represent, and how you fund those.

Carl Lygo: We fund them out of the surpluses that we make from our operating business. We do not have any other source of income. Ninety-nine per cent. of our revenues are derived from the private purse; 60% of our students are sponsored by employers. Essentially, we plough back employers’ and student money into helping those students who need more help. Very many of us who teach at BPP have come from backgrounds where we did not have great life choices, and so we feel compelled, even though we are for-profit, to put something back and give others access to the legal profession, to the accounting profession. These are scholarships, usually around the criteria that identify most with widening access, so in my case, as a firstgeneration university graduate from a fairly deprived South Yorkshire background, the scholarships that I give as the Principal target people who come from similar backgrounds and need that opportunity.

Q572 Mr Ward: That is commendable, but how do you justify that to your shareholders?

Carl Lygo: It is all part of being a good corporate citizen and serving the communities in which we operate. The dominant purpose is not making profit; the dominant purpose is education and serving our communities. Now, I am not going to pretend that we are a university that is set up for widening access. We are doing our bit. We are in a very privileged position, where you have the highest Law Lord who sends all of his children to BPP; you have former Prime Ministers sending their children to BPP. It is only right that we do our bit and allow those who are less fortunate that opportunity-the opportunity that I was given.

Terence Kealey: Widening participation is extremely important. We live in a deeply unfair society, where the advantages to the children of the middle classes are so much greater than the advantages to children of other levels of society. It is almost heartbreaking. All educational institutions have a really profound responsibility. We currently spend 4% of our income on bursaries and scholarship schemes. The difficulty we have, quite simply, is that we are funded almost exclusively by student fees and, therefore, we are simply underresourced for what we would really like to do, which is a much wider widening participation agenda.

The country that has the widest widened participation ironically is the USA, which has the freest market in higher education, while paradoxically countries like France, Italy and Germany, which have free state monopolies essentially, have the least wide participation in higher education. The empirical evidence is very clear. Obviously there are always going to be exceptions, with outliers like Denmark, but if you look at the big countries, there is a very simple correlation: the freer the market, the wider the participation. In huge part, it is because of endowments. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, these are needblind admissions, and it is clear to me that my sector should aspire, over a reasonable timeframe-perhaps 50 years-to have needblind admission. Needblind admission is perfect in terms of quality for the institution and it is socially just, but I think you will have to give us 50 years to build up those endowments, for the time being.

Valery Kisilevsky: At LSBF last year we submitted more than £2 million worth of scholarships, including many that were full scholarships. We fund them again from the surpluses that we generate, but we also work in close collaboration with some of the corporate partners, which also send students to us. For instance, one of the ways in which we encourage participation is by providing commercial loans, where we work with lenders that, as part of their CSR agenda, provide loans at a reduced rate to students who study with us.

I would like to talk a bit more about widening access and participation in quite an innovative scheme that we launched last year. LSBF was the first academic institution anywhere in the world to offer an academic programme using Facebook as a delivery platform. That platform allowed us to offer the entire knowledge transfer and content to a full academic qualification, in that case an MBA programme, Masters in Business Administration, free of charge using the world’s most popular social networking website. Some have criticised us for going too far, but what we have seen is that more than 90,000 people interact regularly with this content absolutely free of charge, and then some of them would follow on with more engagement using our traditional study modes to pursue the full qualification. There are other ways in which one could widen access and participation by first enabling people to get access to the content.

Q573 Mr Ward: With the weakness of superinjunctions, how do you protect intellectual property rights?

Valery Kisilevsky: As I mentioned, we took quite a bold step in the sector by offering the entire intellectual property of the entire Masters programme absolutely free of charge to anyone who was willing to see that. Our rationale in doing so was, by widening access and enabling people to access content, by effectively waiving our rights to that content, we will enable people to pursue qualifications that would lead to better outcomes in terms of full academic programmes. Our approach was that, in this day and age, it is appropriate to be more relaxed about intellectual property rights to some types of content.

Carl Lygo: It is not so much the intellectual property anymore; it is the award that is the key issue.

Q574 Mr Ward: That is right, because the funding is not for the materials but for the qualification and award at the end. Is that right? I think I read that.

Valery Kisilevsky: That is right.

Q575 Mr Ward: Going back again to earlier comments from yourself, Mr Lygo, I think on the American model, although there is hopefully going to be a more important focus on wider participation with the stipulations on universities for the higher fees, you seem to suggest that, in America, the private sector, perversely in some ways, was providing for those who were from lowerincome backgrounds.

Carl Lygo: I am looking at it from a distance, so I am not an expert. But looking at it from a distance, you have open access provision there and virtually unlimited federal funding. When you have that combination, you need a responsible sector that is properly regulated. Again, I would implore the Committee to consider that QAA ought to be that regulator for the whole private sector, and put all the private colleges in the same position as BPP, whereby we completely lose our business if we do not satisfy the requirements of the QAA.

Q576 Chair : Just a couple of general questions, some of which you have partly touched on. First, we have heard comments about a level playing field. What changes in the regulatory regime do you think would bring about a level playing field?

Carl Lygo: Direct regulation of the private sector by the Quality Assurance Agency, and that has to be meaningful, so that providers that fall below the high standards that we expect in the UK are kicked out the club.

Valery Kisilevsky: It is direct regulation on the same terms and conditions, because Carl’s institution, for instance-he mentioned it earlier-has its degreeawarding power subject to renewal in six years’ time. Now, none of our publicsector universities have the same conditions stipulated. There are numerous other provisions in the proposed regulatory framework for the private sector that would differentiate between, again, providers based on their funding source, and those ideally should be illuminated, so we would really have common, uniform regulation for everyone.

Q577 Chair : Given the withdrawal of a large chunk of HEFCE funding from the traditional university sector, do you see any likelihood of moves from that sector towards the Buckingham or other model?

Terence Kealey: It is not usual to praise Governments, but in the last 10 years, first Tony Blair and now David Cameron, Vince Cable and David Willetts-it is actually cross-party-have been extraordinarily enlightened. Very brave men have done very brave things within higher education. I predict that, in 20 years’ time, Britain will have a market in education as free as America’s. I predict that, in 20 years’ time, the two countries in the world with the best higher education systems in the world-markedly better than anyone else’s-will be Britain’s and America’s, and everyone else will be level. It will be in large part because of a huge Buckinghamisation of the sector. I would urge, however, that we look at the Ivy League model, which is better than the Buckingham model. The Ivy League model is Buckingham plus full economic costing of research grants, and that really will give Britain probably a better system than America’s, if collectively you would endorse it.

Q578 Chair : Do either of the other panellists wish to comment on that?

Carl Lygo: I am very popular at dinner parties at the moment with Vice Chancellors who want to know more about the private model and the alternative model.

Chair : That is very interesting indeed.

Carl Lygo: It is unusual.

Chair : We will not ask you to name names.

Carl Lygo: I do not get a sense that they are actually going to move to the model; it is just an intellectual interest in what it would be like with supposedly less regulation. In fact, my position is more regulated, since I lose my whole business model if I do not get my degreeawarding powers renewed every six years.

Valery Kisilevsky: Mr Willetts already indicated that the way forward is that funding will follow students. To me, inevitably that means that we will see a shift in the provision model whereby, if funding follows students, institutions will be forced to adapt and focus on excellence, delivery of excellence and teaching excellence in outcomes for students, which would probably mean alternative models and new models for provision, even for the established providers.

Chair : Thank you very much. I think you have provided certainly a rather different insight into higher education than we have had, which of course was one of the reasons why you invited you to attend the Committee. You have given us considerable food for thought. Thanks very much; I appreciate your contribution.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rob Behrens, Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive, Office of the Independent Adjudicator, Anthony McClaran, Chief Executive, Quality Assurance Agency, and Professor Steve Bristow, Senior Advisor, (Quality Assurance and Governance) British Accreditation Council, gave evidence.

Q579 Chair : Good morning and welcome. You may well have heard the questions posed to the previous panel. Can I reiterate the welcome, and also the comments that you may have heard earlier? Obviously we do not require an answer from each one of you to every question; please intervene on some questions only if you feel that you have anything to add or, indeed, contradict. Can I just ask you to introduce yourselves for voice transcription purposes?

Rob Behrens: Good morning. I am Rob Behrens; I am the Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive of the OIA.

Anthony McClaran: I am Anthony McClaran; I am Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Steve Bristow: I am Steve Bristow; I am Senior Advisor, Quality Assurance and Governance, at the British Accreditation Council for Independent, Further and Higher Education, to give it its full title.

Q580 Chair : Thanks very much. I shall open with a question to Anthony McClaran. Do you think the QAA has the resources to take on its new responsibilities for auditing all the higher education providers wanting highly trusted sponsor status?

Anthony McClaran: Thanks. I think that we have a model that has proved very capable of expansion as the higher education sector has expanded. We already have significant involvement with private providers of higher education, as you heard in the previous session. I think a particular factor here is that the heart of QAA’s approach is peer review: it is not QAA staff who form a judgment about the quality and standards of higher education institutions; it is peers. We have several hundred staff who, at any given time, work with us on a contractual basis to form audit and review teams. The potential expansion of activity is significant and we are clearly giving a lot of consideration to how we would do that, but I think we have a model that essentially is capable of expansion in that way.

Q581 Chair : Currently the QAA audits the five private providers with degreeawarding powers plus, I believe, two American universities operating in London. Do you audit any other private institutions?

Anthony McClaran: We have some arrangements with private institutions that have come into what is called "voluntary subscription". They have chosen, for reasons of their own development as institutions, to work with us through a process that may eventually lead to them applying for degreeawarding powers, so we have that involvement. In the wake of the announcement from UKBA, we have at the moment nearly 300 enquiries from private higher education institutions that want to explore the possibility of educational oversight.

Q582 Chair : How would that impact upon your capacity?

Anthony McClaran: The answer I gave at first: clearly that is a very significant increase in the level of activity that we engage in, although that level of activity is already fairly high. It is important to recognise that the key factor for QAA’s activity is higher education. Last year the majority of our activity took place in further education colleges offering higher education, so we are already used to working with very significant volumes of institutions that offer higher education.

Q583 Chair : How would you compare your work with the private institutions with the traditional universities?

Anthony McClaran: For us in a sense, we are rightly blind to the financial status of the institutions that we quality assure. In relation, for instance, to our work for the awarding of degreeawarding powers, whereby we advise the Department on that, our concern is not with whether an institution is private, publicly funded or any of the other definitions that we heard earlier.

Q584 Chair : Obviously you are right: you should be blind to them. What I am saying is, in the quality of the work and research that you have done with them, have you detected any differences?

Anthony McClaran: We found excellent practice in both publicly-funded and private institutions, and our reports would equally identify and publish that good practice where we find it. No, I do not think we would find a distinction along that fault line in quality.

Q585 Nadhim Zahawi: Mr McClaran, you currently, as we heard in the earlier evidence session, review any degreeawarding powers granted to private institutions every six years. Do you think that is sufficient if the private sector were given access to more public funding-i.e. is it sufficient to review only every six years if they are then given more public funding?

Anthony McClaran: Six years is the current cycle. In previous periods of QAA’s history, that cycle has been four years or five years. When looking at whether six years are enough, you come up with the question that David Willetts has put into the public domain of whether the fundamental approach to institutions ought to be on a cyclical basis, which has the advantage of treating every institution equally, or whether it ought to be risk based, whereby on recognising particular risk factors, you may look at certain institutions more frequently. We have been asked to think about that debate. We are doing that and hope to get more direction from the White Paper when it is published.

Q586 Nadhim Zahawi: Where are you on that debate? You have given us David Willetts’s view; where are you?

Anthony McClaran: In aspects of QAA’s work already, we have incorporated certain aspects of risk. For instance, in the review system that we operate in Wales, there is a riskbased approach to further review depending on the outcome of a particular review. That will determine at what time interval we go back in to look at an institution. I think, from our point of view, we can see merits in a riskbased approach in terms of concentrating the activity where there is recognised risk and reducing the burden of quality assurance on institutions where there is not such a great perception of risk. The key factor there though is actually establishing robust indicators for identifying risk and that is not a simple matter.

Q587 Nadhim Zahawi: No, you are quite right. Do you anticipate making traditional universities’ degreeawarding powers subject to review in future?

Anthony McClaran: That is a matter that would have to be addressed by legislation, so no, we do not envisage making their degreeawarding powers, which they hold by charter or statute, subject to our review. We would not have the power to do that in our own right.

Q588 Nadhim Zahawi: Final question to Mr Bristow: now that any institution wishing to acquire highly trusted sponsor status must be approved by the QAA-by Mr McClaran-what role do you see for the British Accreditation Council; your council?

Steve Bristow: I wonder, Mr Zahawi, whether I can take you back to the origins of BAC. BAC was established in 1984, precisely because Her Majesty’s Government decided it did not wish to be engaged with private further and higher education. A group of people came together to form the original British Accreditation Council and, 27 years on, we are still playing that role. Of course, our role changed quite significantly in 2007, with the introduction of the pointsbased system. From being solely a voluntary accreditor (and we are a voluntary charity) we became what I have described elsewhere as a quasiregulator.

That role is now likely to change in the light of the Home Secretary’s announcement of two months ago, and we are currently exploring alternative ways of taking all the work that we have done in the past, which has been significant (and I think has been recognised as being significant) into whatever future arrangements will best achieve the principal object of the BAC, which is to act as the national body, or possibly even contribute to work as the national body, to assure the quality of further and higher education in the private sector.

Q589 Mr Ward: Two questions for Rob, if I may: on the evidence that we have been provided with, there has been an increase in complaints over the last few years. I believe in your submission that you see that as something that will continue in the future. Is that right?

Rob Behrens: Yes.

Q590 Mr Ward: We also have the composition, the types of complaints. Are there likely to be new complaints that emerge or is it just more of the same in the future, do you believe?

Rob Behrens: Taking your first question first, the trend is steadily upwards. In 2010 the increase on the previous record year was above 25%, so it is growing steadily. The OIA is becoming much better known in the student community. Fees being increased and talk about fees being increased will have a big impact on the number of complaints we receive. We already know that international students make the most complaints and they pay the most fees. There is a whole set of reasons that will lead to a big expansion in complaints. Students are now being encouraged to act as consumers; consumers have a characteristic of making complaints. The labour market is much tighter, so the value of a degree and ways of seeking to get a good degree will be exploited as far as possible. The number of complaints will increase quite considerably, and I do not know anybody in the sector who does not believe that. That is the first thing.

Secondly, as far as the complaints themselves are concerned, as you can see, about 60% are academicrelated complaints. They are not about academic judgments, but the processes leading up to the award of a degree or the academic judgment being made. The issue of mitigating circumstances for example, the issue of whether the university has abided by its own regulations, disability, the sanctions that are used against academic misconduct-all those things are mainstream; they feature in our complaints year after year, and I think they will continue to do that. Where there will be a change, I think, is in an increase in the number of complaints that come under the category of Fitness to Practise and professional qualifications. If you look at our outturn figures for nurses, doctors, social workers and teachers, who have to have a professional qualification in addition to their academic qualification-and therefore there is a double issue about their qualifications-those complaints are increasing and I expect them to increase considerably.

Q591 Mr Ward: The talk of mitigating circumstances brings back dreadful painful memories of endless exam boards, which flooded into my mind at that moment. Do you believe that you have the necessary powers to deal with this increasing level and type of complaint?

Rob Behrens: It is a good question. The way things are at the moment, we have no coercive power, yet universities have complied almost always with the decisions that we have made since 2005, and I pay tribute to universities for that. The only sanction that we have is to publish the name of the university in my annual report if it fails to comply with one of our formal decisions. Until this year, there has been no incidence of that. In my annual report to be published on 14 June, I will report two incidences of noncompliance, and I will want to see how universities respond to that before Making a judgment about whether, subsequently, we need increased powers.

I would just like to add one thing: from 2012, as a result of extensive consultation with universities and students’ unions, we will publish summaries of complaints by name of university, which is a development of existing practice and will bring us in line with the Scottish example, where that already happens.

Q592 Mr Ward: That is looking at when things may go wrong and the powers to do that. Have you any advice to universities or, indeed, to the Government on how to reduce the number of complaints?

Rob Behrens: Absolutely. The OIA should not be a police officer sitting in Reading criticising universities when things go wrong. We have to and we do work with universities and students’ unions to promote good practice, and one of the most significant things we do is run seminars, workshops and send out e-newsletters disseminating good practice, to make sure that universities incorporate that good practice before things go wrong. In the Pathway Report, which was my strategic review of the way the OIA works, published in 2010, there was a very important chapter asking university students how they experience complaints and appeals handling processes in universities. Students are very clear about what goes wrong, and there is a lot that universities can learn and have learnt from this. First, the time taken to resolve complaints in universities is regarded by students as too long. Secondly, there is a sense that the complaint or the appeal is not taken sufficiently seriously. Thirdly and very importantly, most complainants who come to us do not believe that the process leading up to the decision has been fair. Now, the record of cases suggests that is not the case, but there is more universities can do to take students with them in explaining the process and how it works.

Q593 Mr Ward: You mentioned good practice. As I understand it, the private providers can be voluntarily members of the scheme, but it is not necessary. Should that be changed?

Rob Behrens: Well, it should be changed. It is not satisfactory at the moment and, if the yardstick is to be a level playing field, as I believe it should be, between the private and the public, there should be a change in the rules as far as private suppliers are concerned. The situation is complex. First, some private suppliers, like Buckingham for example, are already full members of the scheme because they have a Royal Charter. As a result of the Pathway Report and the consultation that I undertook, we now encourage those for-profit private suppliers to join the scheme as nonqualifying institutions, under the 2004 Act. That is a voluntary undertaking, unlike public universities, which, under the law, are required to join the scheme. I believe that, where there is the use of public money, that activity should come under the remit of the OIA, and I think that is a sensible proposition and should be looked at very closely in the White Paper considerations.

Q594 Mr Ward: Finally from me, the Browne Review recommended the combining of OIA/HEFCE/QAA. What are your views on that?

Rob Behrens: I think I have made my views about the inadequacies of the Browne Report, Chapter 6, very clear. It is evidencelight; it is armchair speculations about what must be the case; and it does not take into account the large amount of work we have done to clarify our strategic role-the consultation we have undertaken with the sector. Critically, it does not take into account the experience in legal services and financial services in the last few years, which have cost millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, to ensure that there is a separation between regulation and complaints handling. That should apply in higher education as well. I work very closely with Anthony McClaran and his team at QAA, but we should be institutionally separate. We should exchange information, but there would be a clear conflict of interest if the two organisations were merged.

Q595 Mr Ward: Finally, any other comments on the complaints from the other two panellists?

Anthony McClaran: Yes, if I could just say something about complaints, as far as QAA is concerned, and following on from the point that Rob Behrens has just made. QAA has a procedure for complaints and for concerns, and we are interested in complaints and concerns, but our interest is the extent to which a complaint, which may be from an individual student, a member of academic staff or from one of the professional bodies in higher education, seems to indicate that there is a more widespread issue of a threat to quality or standards in a particular institution or in part of an institution. We are interested in the extent to which there is evidence that may point not just to an individual failing, which will be of concern to the individual, but a systemic problem that may indicate a wider issue.

We have a concerns procedure that leads to direct investigation of institutions where we believe that there is evidence to indicate that there should be such an investigation. In those circumstances, the kind of exchange of information that Rob Behrens has referred to is helpful, and we engage in that. Similarly of course, sometimes we will get individual complaints that we are able to redirect to the Independent Adjudicator, because that is where they are more appropriately dealt with. There is a coherence about what is available in terms of routes for complaints, but our focus is very much on threats to quality and standards.

Steve Bristow: If I can put this in context, we inspect 527 private institutions in the UK, which is roughly a third of the total. Of those 527, our complaints procedure, which is invoked when a student has exhausted all the avenues for complaint within the institution, resulted in 72 active complaints in 2009 and 45 in 2010. We will take complaints up from students only once they have been through their own institutions’ procedures and are still dissatisfied. Of course, this stands quite outside the OIA arrangements, because our institutions are not in receipt of public money nor indeed is BAC in receipt of public money.

Chair : Can we just go back to quality assurance now? I will bring in Margot James.

Q596 Margot James: Thank you, Chairman. The report by Universities UK in 2009 recommended that the QAA review its code on collaborative provision between the public sector and the private sector to ensure that it is rigorously applied by universities. What progress have you made on that requirement?

Anthony McClaran: We have made progress in meeting that requirement. First, we have taken the existing code and added to it some significant new material that draws particular attention to the responsibilities that universities have in collaborative provision for assuring themselves about issues of governance and financial probity. They are reminded that is a responsibility that they cannot in any sense delegate, because it is they who hold responsibility for the quality and standards of any awards that are made in their name. We intend further work in this area. We have conducted, over the past few months, a complete review of our framework, within which quality and standards are set, called the Academic Infrastructure. Codes of practice are part of that, and they themselves will now be fully reviewed and rewritten, as we move towards a new code of practice for quality and standards as the result of that review.

Q597 Margot James: Thank you. How much investigation, practically, do you believe that universities should do to honour their commitment to inspect the financial probity of their potential partners?

Anthony McClaran: Clearly the amount that is necessary will depend on the partner; it will depend on the country in which that partner is operating and the legal framework within that country. Part of the advice that we added to the code was a reminder of the need to take proper legal advice in looking at those sorts of questions. We also recommend very strongly that there should always be a very clear agreement that governs each collaborative arrangement, with clear specification of respective roles and responsibilities. We have tried to indicate and to point to the directions that should be taken. In our own review work, those are the kinds of frameworks against which we then measure what we find, and the review of collaborative provision is a very specific activity in our total programme of activity.

Q598 Margot James: Thank you. Do you think that a greater role for private providers will help drive up quality in the traditional universities?

Anthony McClaran: I think that the expansion of the number of institutions and their diversity will give further impetus to a situation that I think has been part of the structure of British higher education for some time, which is competition between institutions-competition to attract students, diversity in the offering that is available to students and a responsiveness to the choices that students make. I think that the expansion of that tendency within British higher education will be part of a process of further improving quality. I do not think it is the only way in which quality is improved-I think there are other ways-but I think it is an important lever.

Q599 Katy Clark: How do you think prospective students should judge whether a course offers value for money?

Anthony McClaran: I think that the decision about value for money will vary, almost student by student. Clearly, there are very different reasons why people decide to progress to higher education. That may depend on their age; it may depend on their motive for entering higher education in the first place, which could be very career focused. For a mature student, it may be very different; it may come at the end of a working career. The ultimate decision on value for money must be a decision that the student takes.

I think two things: first, it is essential that the information necessary to make that kind of judgment is available in an easily accessible form and in a comparative form to students; and secondly, and more specifically as far as the QAA is concerned, it is certainly our aspiration, as an organisation with responsibility for quality assurance, that part of that decision about value for money should include a consideration of the work that we do in describing the arrangements for the assurance of quality in institutions. A very important part of the direction that I think we are moving in as an agency is to make sure that the work we do is much more publicly accessible, much more written with a student audience in mind and located in places where it is easily found by a student who is searching for information to help make their choices about higher education.

Rob Behrens: There needs to be much greater transparency in universities about what they provide and what students can expect. I pay tribute to the work of Professor Janet Beer in creating not only charters but key information sets, which are going to lead the way to this. We should see that students are much better informed about that, but two other things are important in the context of the OIA here. First, the National Student Survey is a priceless survey of what students really think about the quality of what they are getting. Although each year over 80% of students say that they are very satisfied with the overall quality of what they receive, the marks for feedback and assessment are significantly lower than that 80%. In fact, they are usually the lowest level, and that is something that students will need to look at in coming to a judgment.

The other thing is that there will be, from 2012, the publication of an annual letter from my office to universities, setting out the record of the university in complaints and appeals over the previous year. We do not want to create league tables, but this should be something that is in the public domain, and prospective students will want to have a look at it in making their choices.

Q600 Chair : Why do you not want league tables?

Rob Behrens: I do not necessarily want league tables. One of the issues that I have, and have had in the last two years, is encouraging universities to come with me down the road to greater transparency. Their concern is that redtop newspapers will distort the publication of figures. When you come to complaints, sometimes the figures are so low that they are not statistically reliable, and that makes league tables not necessarily useful in this area, but there should be publication.

Q601 Chair : If I can pursue this, schools have to put up with this sort of scrutiny; why should higher education institutes not?

Rob Behrens: You must ask them that. It is not a problem for me and, if it happens, it can happen, but it will not be at the top of my priority list. My concern will be to put in the public domain the key information about how complaints and appeals are handled.

Q602 Chair : Could I just follow on, because this is quite an interesting question? Is there a real danger that, if you had league tables, those that would feature as worse might do so only because in fact they have more transparent and open procedures?

Rob Behrens: That is a good point, and this is a very sensitive and difficult area, but it will not stop me publishing the information. The key issue is that some universities, particularly metropolitan universities, tend to have more complaints brought by students, in part because the university has a different approach to access. We need to take that into account.

Q603 Chair : Can you elaborate? What is the different approach to access that precipitates more complaints?

Rob Behrens: There are some metropolitan universities that have a much more proactive outreach strategy in attracting students, and those students are perhaps more likely to come up against difficulties during their courses and, therefore, might bring complaints. I do not have a problem about a university having a large number of complaints reported to the OIA. The test is whether those complaints are justified or partly justified. Any reporting of this information has to take into account that universities will be of different size, they will have different demographic intakes and, therefore, we need to be very careful when we are comparing one university with another.

Q604 Katy Clark: My next question is for the British Accreditation Council. Are your accreditation reports routinely made public?

Steve Bristow: Can I break that down, if I may? Because we have been a voluntary accrediting body for 27 years, our agreement with institutions has been that they may publish their report in full if they choose to do so. If they publish, it has to be in full; they cannot cherrypick from the report. We then publish a small agreed statement about them and we also publish data sheets giving information about the institution. Our thinking was very well advanced towards publishing all reports from 2012 when the Home Secretary made her announcement. We have now put that just to one side while we look at some of the implications of that announcement.

It will represent a change in the relationship between the charity and its accredited institutions, so there is no difficulty in principle, but of course all the work of BAC is paid for by inspection and accreditation fees; we have never received any public money whatsoever. Any additional costs that we incur need to be carefully looked at and properly resourced, be those in the quasiregulatory work that we have been doing for the Border Agency over the last four years or in moving towards publication, which involves a much greater concern for the editing of reports and consistency in the way in which judgments are reported.

It is important also for me to say that inspectors’ reports are presented to our accreditation committee. It is the accreditation committee that makes the decisions about accreditation. It is not the inspectors who make the decisions; they make a recommendation. Sometimes the accreditation committee will take a different view from the inspectors and add additional information into the judgment that they make, so we have been having to find a way of making sure that what reaches the public domain reflects the decision that is made by the accreditation committee, not necessarily the raw report that comes back from the inspectors. All quality assurance agencies that have a staged process (where there is an inspection team or panel-whatever form that takes-which then makes a recommendation to a signoff body) has exactly that issue to face.

Q605 Katy Clark: Do you think there is a way that more information could be made available?

Steve Bristow: Yes, with no difficulty at all. If I can just come back to the earlier discussion, our inspectors do ensure, first, that colleges’ publicity is accurate-that they are not making claims that they cannot sustain. Secondly, our inspectors ensure they have in place appropriate student feedback mechanisms, and other systems for staff appraisal, staff engagement and so on, which is all a central part of their own quality assurance scheme; and then thirdly, that they are developing their own approach to selfevaluation and selfassessment. BAC is Britain’s second member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. QAA is a full member; we are an associate. We are on a track, or at least we still think of ourselves as on a track despite the Home Secretary’s announcement, to becoming a full member in a couple of years’ time. We hold ourselves accountable in exactly the same way that we expect colleges to hold themselves accountable.

Anthony McClaran: Can I just add one comment, which in a sense closes a loop between the issue of information and that of review? In the new review method for England, which will come in from the academic year beginning in September, we will not only look at the information that universities make available but, as a formal part of the review, we will reach and publish a judgment about that public information. It is not simply aspiration; it is formally going to be part of the review process.

Q606 Katy Clark: My next question is primarily for the Quality Assurance Agency, although the other witnesses might want to respond. We have already heard evidence about the increased use of private institutions and, in particular, forprofit organisations in providing higher education. Do you anticipate any problems with commercial confidentiality if we are moving to approved private colleges, and has any discussion taken place about how we deal with that, so that students get the highest quality of information?

Anthony McClaran: Yes, it is a very important issue and we have indeed started to discuss that. The main forum for that discussion is our advisory committee on degreeawarding powers, which is the committee that makes recommendations through the Department to the Privy Council about whether institutions, be they public or private, should be given degreeawarding powers. We are conscious of the fact that, in an era of private provision or an increase of private provision, the very acquisition of degreeawarding powers can in itself be something that adds a real financial value to an organisation. We are therefore having discussions that will lead to a very clear protocol for the way in which that committee conducts its business to ensure that we have a balance between respect of commercial confidentiality but, at the same time, the needs of students in terms of access to information about the institutions that are going to hold degreeawarding powers, but it is a very important issue.

Rob Behrens: Can I just make a couple of points about that? First, we now have two private providers that have joined the scheme as a result of the protocol that we published last year. That is welcome. Sometimes private providers are a little unsure about whether they want to share their balance sheet with us, because we need to make sure that they are in good standing, but that ultimately is not a problem, and I think that is a good thing. I think all suppliers in higher education are too nontransparent in their approach, and they need to be much more transparent, so it does not just apply to private suppliers. One of the things that students tell us consistently is that it is only when cases come to the OIA that they see documents related to their own case, which they should have seen during the course of the original investigation. That applies to public and to private institutions.

Steve Bristow: To say that we are a voluntary accreditor, I have to pay tribute to our colleges, which report annually to us in detail on their activities, with changes, with declarations of whether they are engaged in any legal disputes of any sort. They supply key information from their own accounts. We have a due diligence process with new colleges that approach us, where we look at their governance information and their financial information-the sorts of things that you would expect a licensing or a registration body to do. As there has been no registration body, we felt that it has fallen to us to do that. The only area where colleges have asked us, on occasion, to treat information as commercially confidential is in their agreements with universities, because these tend to specify the amount of money that the institution is paying to the partner university, and that is all very sensitive information.

For the rest, their fees are in the public domain. I can tell you for example, just reverting to your last question, that among the colleges that we accredit, you can pick up a British university degree for anything between a tuition fee of £4,000 a year and £13,000 a year. The judgment then has to be, from the student’s point of view, whether they are getting value for that money. From our point of view, it is ensuring that the institution is very clear about what services and benefits the student will get for that.

Q607 Katy Clark: My final question is really to ask the witnesses what they hope to see in the Government’s White Paper when it is published.

Anthony McClaran: From our point of view, an affirmation of the critical importance of independent external quality assurance. I do think that principle is vital in terms of providing the constructive challenge to institutions that enables them to improve and to continue to build on their quality. I do think it is important that we remember that education is a devolved matter, but the framework for the quality of higher education is actually a UKwide framework. The continuing recognition of the value, in reputational terms and in terms of international standing, of the UK higher education sector is critical. I think it is important to recognise that.

It is important that we have a framework that can recognise and support a diversity of institutions, but within a common framework. Students do look for comparable information. Diversity adds that dimension of competition and choice, which are important drivers of quality. Finally, there should be a very clear understanding that the arrangements that flow from the White Paper and any legislation that follows have students at their heart. Over the past year, as we have reviewed the way in which we operate, that has been a guiding principle, and the new review method will, at every level, embed directly students in the work of evaluating and contributing to the quality of the education that they experience.

Q608 Chair : Just before Katy concludes on that issue, I think you have probably anticipated my intervention in your comments. Do you think it is possible for students to work out value for money before they go to university?

Anthony McClaran: As I said earlier, value for money will be a decision for students that will vary from student to student, depending on their motive for going into higher education. The critical fact is that they are given the information that helps them make that judgment. Now, the direct correlation between value for money and the quality of what the student is going to experience is a judgment that they will make, and of course it is also a judgment on the part of each individual university that each university will have to explain and justify. I think the contribution of quality assurance is providing the assurance to the student that they will receive higher education of a standard and in a context where there are arrangements clearly in place to make sure that they not only receive that standard but receive it effectively and with the right arrangements that will ensure a really positive teaching experience for them.

Chair : Can I just bring Katy in to conclude?

Q609 Katy Clark: It is really just in case any of the other witnesses-

Steve Bristow: Are we are going to be allowed to say what we think should be in the White Paper?

Katy Clark: Yes. What should be in the White Paper?

Steve Bristow: Thank you. I think we hope that whatever the common level playing field for quality assurance is, it should be inclusive. It should not damage the access that students have, through private colleges, to higher education of all sorts, in a range of fields. In your earlier discussion this morning, you were given the impression that there is almost a complete focus on business and professional subjects. That is not in fact the case in the sector that we serve, so for example the Academy of Contemporary Music, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, the Royal School of Needlework are all very highquality institutions. Many of them are very small institutions and may not be able to bear quite the same form of review that is currently available through QAA mechanisms, but I hope that the White Paper will be sufficiently open to ensure that institutions of decent quality can come within that common framework.

Rob Behrens: Can I just make six very simple suggestions for the White Paper? First, it is time to bury Chapter 6 of the Browne Review. We need from the White Paper a firm commitment to the integrity of a national, independent, impartial, well-resourced complaintshandling organisation, safeguarding the student experience. Secondly, we need recognition that students’ unions are a valued resource in assisting students to launch appeals and complaints, and spelling out the need for universities to work better with them on this basis.

Thirdly, it would be interesting to see a proposal for an OIA kitemark validating complaints processes. That is something we are interested in and would be willing to discuss. Fourthly, as I have already said, there needs to be an underlying commitment to greater transparency and support in the White Paper for our plan to publish summaries of complaints by name of university from January 2012. Fifthly, there should be a level playing between public and private suppliers, in which the conditions in which the suppliers come to the OIA are exactly the same.

Lastly, and we have not mentioned this, there is good practice in Wales. Recently they published an interesting report on governance in higher education in Wales, in which one of the findings was that boards of governors should take a much greater interest in reviewing the university’s record on complaints and appeals, and disseminating and putting that into the public domain, in the way it sets out in the QAA code of practice. Those are six things that I think are helpful.

Chair : Thank you very much. I thank you all for your contributions. I apologise for Members having to leave. You will note that business is about to start, and of course some Members have questions on the Order Paper, so have to be present in the Chamber. Do not take it as a reflection on the quality of your contribution. That is the division bell, which indicates that prayers are starting and questions will start very quickly. I thank you once again for your contributions. If you feel that you would like to answer questions that we failed to pose to you, feel free to submit answers in any further written evidence, or if you feel you wish to add to any comments that you have made. If we feel we have not covered something that perhaps we should, we may write to you. Anyway, thanks very much; your contribution is very helpful.

Prepared 12th July 2011