Wednesday, 18 January 2012

HESA and the private providers (again)

I posted many months ago about HESA and the private providers, predicting an unsightly mess:

the UK Border Agency is obliging all private providers to be regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which in turn is likely to mean in future that they will all have to return data to HESA. However HESA's idea of who is 'registering' the students is very different from UKBA's idea of who is 'sponsoring' the visa.... These technicalities are therefore likely to lead to an almighty brawl in the not-too-distant future simply because there isn't capacity for everyone to meet their obligations with the precision required to make the data add up
If you have been closely monitoring the news, you will have noted that this prediction of mine has (ahem) yet to come to pass. However I was at a HESA event yesterday where I learnt from colleagues that the first wave of private providers -about half a dozen institutions - are in very active discussions with HESA but have yet to make much progress because no-one has taken any decisions about what exactly they will be required to do. It seems cruel and inhumane to make them return the full dataset when many of the most challenging fields relate to HEFCE funding which they will never receive, but I suppose that no-one wants to set a precedent by asking for less either. The issue is not primarily one for HESA but for the statutory customers which - in England - really means HEFCE.

Apart from giving me a straw to clutch whilst I continue to believe that I'm not wrong on this issue (I just haven't been proven right yet), I also think it demonstrates the concern I have expressed before that HEFCE is struggling to come to terms with its new remit over private providers. The longer this drags on, the more abruptly it will have to be resolved when the time comes, and the more that will hurt.

Those who have experience of the breed will know that this ability to interpret any datum as fitting our pre-conceptions is very common amongst middle-to-senior managers in universities, and will reach for an appropriately-sized pinch of salt.

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