Crackdown on ‘poor’ college courses launched – with fines and grading system planned
Universities and colleges offering ‘poor quality’ courses face tough regulation and fines under new proposals from the Office for Students (OfS).
In a consultation released on Thursday, the regulator said it would set thresholds for the number of students who drop out of classes, while college education grades will include a new ‘needs improvement’ category as well as grades for gold, silver and bronze.
The OfS said it was seeking to prevent students from receiving “performance below our minimum expectations”, given that they “are likely to pay substantial sums”.
At least 80% of students should continue their studies until their second undergraduate year, he said, 75% should complete their studies and 60% should continue their studies or a professional job.
Universities that do not meet the thresholds could be investigated, face fines or have their access to student loan cash restricted.
Under the OfS’s new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), universities would be ranked gold, silver or bronze over a four-year cycle, depending on their students’ performance and experiences, grades being published on the Ucas and DiscoverUni websites. .
Universities failing to meet these standards would be rated “needs improvement”, with teaching and pursuit figures being released annually.
Universities that didn’t participate in the TEF, had their rating suspended, or were rated as “needs improvement” wouldn’t be able to charge that much money.
Some respondents to the November 2020 OfS consultation said that ‘the proposals would unfairly disadvantage providers with a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds’.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said: “These proposals mark a historic moment in our work to tackle the poor quality of English higher education.
“Students from all backgrounds deserve to take good courses leading to qualifications that stand the test of time and prepare them well for life after graduation.
“Many universities and colleges in England offer high quality courses which deliver positive outcomes for students.
“The thresholds we have proposed will not affect them.
“Rather, they are designed to target poor quality coursework and outcomes that fail students and do not reflect student ambition and effort.”
Ms Dandridge said the proposals are likely to ‘generate significant debate’ and that the OfS will consider the responses from the consultation before a final decision is made.
Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said students “deserve an education that will help them achieve their dreams”, adding: “We must crack down on universities that fail to achieve this ambition.”
She said: “Our university system is acclaimed as world-class, but there are too many shoddy pockets.
“Through this tough regulatory action, we are protecting students from the disappointments of these institutions, while ensuring that those who provide exceptional education are properly recognized.”
The news comes after Universities UK released a new framework on Monday to tackle low quality degrees.
Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Chair of Universities UK’s Curriculum Review Advisory Group, said: ‘Universities need to be able to communicate why they are offering the courses they offer and the value of those courses to students. potential, employers and the public.
“While UK universities have a strong track record of delivering high quality courses that equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to progress to rewarding careers, universities know there is a need to address concerns from the public regarding potentially low-value courses.”
Unions said the proposals risked introducing “de facto” minimum entry requirements into higher education.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the plans would “harm the very students they are meant to help”.
She said: “Not only will thresholds hurt courses that play an important role in widening participation, but there is a real risk that universities, aiming to avoid sanctions, will simply stop admitting students that they consider it unlikely to progress.
“This amounts to the stealth introduction of de facto minimum entry criteria. ”
“If course quality is a real concern for regulators and ministers, they would be better advised to encourage universities to act on the real crises on campus, including deteriorating salaries, creeping casualization and a crisis of the workload that fails staff and students.”