Tuesday, 31 May 2011

ifs School of Finance

Another private providers post. I am interested in those parts of the private sector which have a distributed delivery model as opposed to others (e.g. Regents or Buckingham) which have a traditional campus model. Is there scope for a new model of HE to develop through the private sector doing something genuinely innovative? What follows is therefore a series of posts on the major private providers.

First ifs School of Finance. This one is, like many, a registered charity which, founded in 1879, would fit pretty easily into the smaller end of the public sector. Since January 2010, it has had TDAP.

The Trustees recognise the opportunity to expand:

the ifs is well-positioned to take advantage of any greater reliance and focus on private sector provision. In this regard the ifs is planning to run full-time degree programmes for the first time in its history. (Source)

The annual accounts show a loss of £234k in the year ending July 2010, on a turnover of £14.5 million. The previous year's loss was £1.6 million on a turnover of £8.5 million. The rate of growth seems pretty impressive, but the results themselves aren't stellar. The preceding years' turnovers are £16.5 (2008) and £17.4 (2007) million. Year ending December 2007 was the last time a surplus was recorded. What we are really seeing here is an accounting quirk: ifs shifted to a financial year ending in July in 2009, so the year ending 31 July had only 7 months in it.

HESA data show that almost all the current students (16,500 out of 18,000) are at FE level. Only one FTUG programme is offered - the BSc Banking Practice and Management, only in London with an entry tariff of 300 pts, although some of the FE programmes are available through a network of collaborative providers both in  the Uk and overseas. The relatively specialist nature of the BSc, the single location offered, and the fact that it is the only programme offered indicate (IMHO) fairly modest ambition in the HE arena, and when the financial position is considered too, clearly ifs is some way away from challenging any large HE provider for any part of its core market.

Sir Graeme Davies


Cancer is always a nasty business, so I wish Sir Martin well.

I've heard some colleagues speculate as to whether the Interim Director will take a different view on OFFA's powers or somehow do the job differently than the previous Director would have done. It seems to me that Sir Graeme Davies is the safest pair of hands in the business, and personifies non-boat-rocking even more than Sir Martin did before him. Appointing him to shake the foundations of English HE would be like appointing Samson as a Philistine building safety inspector.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

RAB herring

This is a blog about planning, regulation and funding, not policy. Policy is what Ministers think they want to achieve. Planning, regulation and funding are something rather different.

So Willetts in the Higher is not really the core of what I am interested in, but I'm going to blog anyway, because I'm still fresh and eager about this whole blogging lark.

I expect that, in the future, as the data accrue, the policy debate will be about the RAB charge for individual institutions. One reason why we were not able to accept Browne's ingenious idea of a levy on higher fees is that it was indiscriminate and did not reflect the actual Exchequer risk from lending to students at specific universities.
 Here's a case in point where I predict that the Minister's policy interest will founder on the rocks of practicality. Of course the data to make a start on calculating those institutional RAB charges already exist at the SLC. The time series isn't long enough to give a complete picture, and if it were it would relate to the graduates of the 70s and 80s, who entered a rather different labour market, but the individual RAB charges are perfectly calculable. We even know what the calculation will tell us.

We all understand that the LSE's graduates will incur a lower RAB charge than UEL's. We all know that UEL's will incur a lower charge than Leeds Met's. The difference between LSE and UEL is partly - perhaps entirely - down to the greater social privilege of the LSE's students at the point of entry. The difference between UEL and Leeds Met is partly - perhaps entirely - down to higher wages in the London economy as compared to Leeds. Easy! But what can we do with these data?

Even if we could adjust our data to account for graduate's entry characteristics, we would have a further problem. Part of the individual career benefit you get from going to an elite university is an excellent education. The other part is made up of connections you make, prestige which rubs off on you and suchlike. The first might represent a public good (we all benefit if our ruling elite is well educated), but the second is clearly a public disbenefit (we all suffer if our ruling elite excludes well-educated and able people who went to unfashionable universities). How could we determine the balance between these two kinds of benefit in individual career trajectories, and hence in institutional RAB charges?

Perhaps thinking of the RAB charge as the subsidy to the University will help clarify this. If you are subsidising LSE by £10m, UEL by £20 and Leeds Met by £30, this in itself tells you nothing unless you also know how much value you are getting for that money. Which of these universities is contributing the most towards Government priorities? In practice, of course, each will be contributing to a greater or lesser extent towards many priorities. UEL is doing more widening participation work than LSE, and probably training more teachers too, but is LSE making a greater contribution to the economy? Who knows? If you know cost but not benefit, you cannot calculate value.

So when Willetts gets his institutional RAB charges he will find they tell him nothing that he doesn't already know, and that he can't work out what to do with them.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

LSE again


Given their PG fees policy, a clear instance of the old saying about consistency and small minds.

Private Providers (again)

So to Wonkhe where I find a link to this article by Howard Hotson, but actually I want to blog about this one instead which is confusingly dated 2 June, but hey.

One reflection is that again BPP and Buckingham get to stand in for the whole private sector - whereas Regents, Kaplan, ifs and many others ought by rights to be as prominent. Whatever else it may achieve, the University title seems to win a lot of press attention.

A second reflection is the degree of moral panic at work here. I've commented on this issue before This is by no means the worst example I've ever seen, but see how even the monthly start dates at University of Phoenix are presented as a plot against the would-be students.

Thirdly there is a lack of attention to the differences between UK and US models - American regulation is state-based, and accordingly not well adjusted to cope with a national HE provider like Phoenix. UK regulation is still national in many respects (e.g. the QAA).

There's no reason to tar UK private providers by association. Even as reputable, ethical businesses (which many of them are), they provide more than enough threat to the established universities. I'm going to post on how I perceive that threat (or that opportunity, for the private sector) in a later post, as soon as I can get it down to a reasonable size.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A brief but heartfelt post

Posting has been nonexistent due to a week's leave and a couple of days trying to catch up. Here is a brief  word on the draft HEFCE Equality Scheme. It really is beyond pitiful that an organisation spending so much public money, with such clear statutory duties to uphold and having itself published the clearest possible evidence of the institutional racism of our sector should commit itself to such feeble policy:

Objective 2 To work with the HE sector to address lower degree attainment by black and minority ethnic groups (Aim C)Evidence from HESA shows a significant gap between the attainment, progression and graduate destination of BME students and those of white students9. In helping the sector address this, we will: convene an expert working group in 2011-12 to review the current position and make recommendations present the issue for discussion at a HEFCE Board meeting in 2011, and take forward its recommendations in relevant policy development continue to indicate the importance of improving BME attainment in our continuing partnership with the Higher Education Academy.

Let's just remind ourselves what HEFCE's own research found on this issue:

differences between the groups can not be wholly explained by the differences in the student profile. In fact, comparing mature White and Black finalists, less than one third of the difference can be explained by the profile.
I aspire to be the most cynical person in any gathering, but sometimes cynicism fails, and only anger will do.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Summer Camp

This amused me.

Two interesting things in yesterday's Higher

No, not a joke title. There were genuinely two stories that interested me. Firstly on shared services http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=416115 where Warwick and five unknown partners are exploring sharing registry and other services. From a technical point of view registry is largely back-of-house and everyone uses SITS these days, so outsourcing is clearly very feasible; but I'm genuinely surprised that anyone in the sector would relax control of something so close to the institutional core. Previous outsourcing - cleaning, catering a couple of cases of IT - has affected professional groups very distant from the Registrar track. Perhaps this is another marker on the long road downhill that the traditional university administrator is currently walking.

Secondly Matt Robb's puff piece for Parthenon struck me as genuinely interesting http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=416122. Presumably Parthenon are trying to increase their Education business, although I can't see anything very specific linked to this on their website. Their view that the £9k fee is rational and sustainable in the short term is clearly right. The view that it will be undermined by new private entrants in the medium term (at least for some institutions) rests on some assumptions about future Government policy that may be open to challenge.

Blogger down

Blogger has been down for nearly 24 hrs during which time I've learned (a) that blogging is a bit addictive - at least in this early phase - as I kept twitching to see if it had come back and (b) to be less harsh on my IT colleagues if Google canhave thatmuch trouble with their routine maintenance.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

HEPI Study on private providers

HEPI have published a study on private providers in the UK by Fielden and Middlehurst - two commentators who know their stuff http://www.hepi.ac.uk/455-1969/Private-Providers-in-UK-Higher-Education--Some-Policy-Options.html. There are a lot of valuable things about this report.

Fielden and Middlehurst very properly underline the role of not-for-profit private providers both in the US and UK, and avoid the whiff of moral panic that sometimes attends the discourse about for-profits. They lay out reasonably clearly the regulatory 'structure' for private providers in the UK. But I can't help feel the issue they avoid - student number control - is the key issue. I'll blog more on this later.

Apologia pro bloga sua

A blog requires an apology, or at least a justification. I’m old enough to remember when the waste of bandwidth seemed like a serious issue; even if those days are gone your time and effort in reading is still valuable and I need to give you an account of why you should spend it on my blog.

I’ve started this blog because now seems like an interesting time in the funding and regulation of English Higher Education. I think I have something to say about these issues because I am a practitioner, not a commentator. My career has been spent in planning, regulating and funding English Higher Education – on both sides of the fence – and I think this gives me an understanding of how new developments fit into an existing structure, how they can work in practice and how they can interact with each other which is certainly not unique to me, but which is distinctive from most of the commentary I can find.

I hope this blog will be of interest to other workers in HE who want to understand how new policies and new regulations will affect their professional lives. It may also be of interest to others writing about these issues. I doubt it will ever say anything much that surprises my fellow planning professionals, but maybe over time I will be able to tempt some of them into posting comments to offer their own perspectives.

I currently work for an English university. It’s no secret which it is but I am not trying to publicise its name here or represent its views or policies. This blog is personal. Any views expressed may or may not be my own, they certainly are not those of my employer, but I think we can at least have confidence that they will not have caused grievous offence to any of my future employers.