Monday, 30 July 2012

Gearing up for Clearing

We are in the final stages, now of preparing for Clearing. My direct role in this process is a fairly limited one - I had a discussion yesterday about what budget code we should assign to the bottled water that keeps the Clearing team hydrated, but actually I don't even sign off the purchase order at the end of the day. Making Clearing happen is a major undertaking: the first morning puts a strain on out telephone and IT systems that nothing else in the year comes close to matching. This post isn't mainly about the mechanics of Clearing, though, because this is a planning blog. It is mostly about more of a macro-level issue: will we all get enough students to meet our budgets whilst staying below our student number control limits? The answer, of course, is no: but not in a very interesting way.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Degree Awarding Powers: Confusion reduced

A follow up to my post from earlier today. Whilst Education Investor repeats the BBC story that two private providers have gained degree awarding powers, a colleague from BIS has responded promptly and unequivocally to my email as follows:

I can confirm that the online list of recognised bodies is complete and accurate. The BBC story is incorrect in its statement that the second institution to be granted degree awarding powers this week is a private college. The other institution is a publicly-funded institution that receives HEFCE funding.

More confusion about Degree Awarding Powers

The news in the BBC and Times Higher that Regent's College has been granted degree awarding powers will come as a surprise to nobody likely to be reading a blog like this one. What came as a very severe shock to me, though, was this language in the BBC report:

'It [i.e. Regent's] is one of two private colleges being given degree-awarding powers this week....The identity of the second college has not yet been made public, with government officials saying it is up to that institution to make its announcement.'

There is nothing like this mentioned in the Higher story, so I very much hope it is a BBC reporter's misunderstanding (The Royal Academy of Music has recently been awarded DAPs, and as far as I can see from their website hasn't made a public announcement, but the RAM is certainly not a private college). BIS maintain a list of bodies with Degree Awarding Powers here. If it is really true that BIS is allowing private colleges with degree awarding powers to stay off this list until they wish to publicise their new powers, that would strike me as a very surprising thing indeed. It would call into question the Government's commitment to a 'level playing field' between public and private providers, not to say basic standards of openness in public administration.

I tried to speak to someone at BIS to gain clarification, but when she discovered I wasn't a journalist, the operator refused to put me through so I've had to fire off an email. When I get a response, I'll post an update.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Muhammad Saleem from Online Colleges sent me this infographic about MOOCs. I don't agree with everything it says (see my post here), but I thought it was interesting enough to be worth sharing.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Cash is fungible

Dewi Knight has an interesting post on WonkHE about the developing Welsh approach to HE. As Dewi highlights, part of the mood music which Welsh politicians use to accompany their policy proposals is the decisive rejection of market (and English) models. The Welsh Government even plans to take powers so that it can fund specific universities directly.

One of my occasional themes on this blog is that developments in different parts of the UK are not as different as they appear, and this is a good example. English Ministers emphasise the language of competition and markets, whilst Welsh Ministers use different language, but both are engaged in projects to reshape their respective HE sectors to the needs (as perceived by Ministers) of students and employers. Both are seeking to enhance their regulatory control over their respective sectors.

It is inconceivable that English Ministers could seek powers to fund institutions directly (even if they dared to bring forward an HE Bill at all...), but the pound a Welsh Minister grants to a Welsh institution will have exactly the same purchasing power as the pound an English student pays in state-subsidised fees when the English funding council decides to increase an institution's Student Number Control. Cash is fungible.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Changing Universities

On Friday I attended the Association of University Administratorsopen forum Managing Change. This is the third of these annual events and interesting war stories are always exchanged. Unfortunately the Chatham House rule was in operation, so I can't discuss what I heard very freely.

What I will do is to post a link to the group's online resource Changing Universities, and encourage any readers who are involved in managing change in universities to consider getting involved in the group. If nothing else, the meetings provide a level of social support: it gives me reassurance to know that no-one else has completely resolved the issues that I can't resolve either.  

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The BPP School of Health

Yesterday's news that BPP is branching out into a new professional area by launching a School of Health provides a good example of the way our HE system continues to evolve only haltingly towards a more open market, and some of the important barriers that still exist to private providers. The specific subjects offered are Psychology, Chiropractic and a little Nursing, as well as entry-level programmes designed for healthcare workers with very limited formal qualifications.

I'll take these in reverse order. As the existing health professions continue to evolve (nurses take on jobs formerly done by doctors, and become an all-graduate profession) there has been increasing emphasis on formal training and development for health care assistants and other support workers. London South Bank, for instance, offers a range of Foundation Degrees aimed at these workers and closely aligned with local NHS Trust. You will see from the materials I linked to that students are either in NHS employment, or offered NHS training contracts before they come on the course. So there's nothing very new in what BPP are offering, and their integration with employers (the key competitive advantage they have in e.g. Accountancy or Law as compared to the established universities) is not all that strong.

Chiropractic is another interesting choice, because it is a profession not regulated by the Health Professions Council. Psychology is regulated by the BPS, but unlike most existing University programmes (including private providers like Buckingham), BPP's programme doesn't seem to have BPS accreditation. No doubt BPP will gain accreditation in time, and develop increasingly strong NHS links, but we also see how the forest of poorly-coordinated regulatory bodies that surrounds the existing HE sector (and are a royal pain from a day-to-day management perspective) make it difficult even for respected providers like BPP to break open new areas.

Why haven't BPP chosen some easier targets? This little table shows you that:

JACS2 Subject Line
Ratio of apps to accs (:1)
A1 - Pre-clinical Medicine
A2 - Pre-clinical Dentistry
B1 - Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology
B7 - Nursing
D1 - Pre-clinical Veterinary Medicine
B8 - Medical Technology
X1 - Training Teachers
B2 - Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy
L5 - Social Work
W4 - Drama
K1 - Architecture
Y Combs of soc studies/law with business
L1 - Economics
C3 - Zoology
B4 - Nutrition
C7 - Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochem
 Total all subjects

Source: UCAS

These are 2011 data on subject areas with many applications, and high application-to-acceptance ratios. In other words the market is here. Drama is in there, where the barrier to entry is capital costs rather than regulation, but for the most part the dominance of health and related subjects is clear.

From David Willetts' perspective there is very little he can do about this, of course. The HPC, the BPS and the NHS don't answer to him.