Higher education (HE) is undergoing fundamental reform. The Higher Education and Research Bill – which proposes a radical change in the regulatory architecture of higher education – has landed in the House of Lords.
The bill proposes measures to relax the entry of new learning providers into the market. Against the backdrop of such changes, now is the time to closely examine whether ‘challenger institutions’ are really providing students with an alternative choice.
A changing HE landscape
The higher education landscape has historically been diverse and the sector has always engaged in debates around this. Today’s landscape of institutions has changed dramatically in the past thirty years, even though many of our institutions can point to hundreds of years of history. I have no doubt that the landscape will be very different in thirty years’ time, equally vibrant and equally changing to meet the needs of society and students.
In our current context, there are examples of higher education providers who are working dynamically to offer students a different choice to the ‘standard offer’ of the three-year, campus-based, undergraduate degree.
For example, the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance gives specialised and bespoke provision for undergraduates which combines campus-based study with wider access to the industry. Professional qualification focused providers, such as BPP and the University of Law, also offer, amongst other opportunities, high flexibility of provision and location.
However, it is not only the alternate providers who are changing their model of provision. The University of Liverpool now delivers over 10,000 postgraduate masters courses online each year, circumventing any ‘face to face’ teaching – another example of an institution giving different options to its students.
As the higher education space becomes more diverse, open, and innovative, it is important to examine what – if anything – makes alternative models of provision distinct in their offer to students. What are the barriers to innovation? What can the higher education sector as a whole learn from this?
Representing Jisc on HE provision
This is why I am delighted to be representing Jisc on the steering group for the Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry into diversity of higher education provision. The inquiry seeks to investigate the innovation taking place in the alternative models of higher education provision, considering whether the variety in the sector’s offer is effectively responding to the needs, and wants, of students.
The Higher Education Commission is a cross-party group of parliamentarians and leading representatives from business, industry and the public sector. The Commission’s fifth inquiry is chaired by Lord Norton of Louth and Professor Joy Carter, vice-chancellor of the University of Winchester. The inquiry will last six months and its final report will be launched in June 2017.
This follows on from the Commission’s fourth inquiry report 'From Bricks to Clicks' which investigated the potential of data analytics in higher education and how providers could use data to better deliver education. I was pleased to be involved in that conversation at the parliamentary launch and continue the important work Jisc does to promote learning analytics in higher education.
The Commission’s fifth inquiry will investigate the broad spectrum of higher education institutions providing alternative models of provision which differ from the campus-based three-year undergraduate course.
With the Higher Education and Research Bill set to introduce regulatory changes, it is important to consider whether the newer so-called ‘challenger institutions’ – who may offer alternative models of provision – are genuinely expanding the choice for students in the market. The inquiry will examine whether these institutions offer a distinct alternative and give recommendations for learning across the whole sector.
How you can take part
The Higher Education Commission will be launching a call for evidence in the new year to seek views from individuals and organisations on this topic.
If you think the sector can benefit from identifying and studying its diversity, and would like to work with the prestigious Higher Education Commission, please contact Pooja Kumari, senior researcher at Policy Connect.