Short course approach sits “unhappily” with OfS regulatory system, MPs hear
The introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement could have a negative impact on student continuation and retention rates—potentially meaning universities fall foul of regulatory requirements, MPs have been told.
Rachel Sandby-Thomas, registrar at the University of Warwick, told a House of Commons public bill committee that the LLE—which would give all adults aged up to 60 access to student loans and require universities to offer shorter courses—was in conflict with aspects of current Office for Students regulation.
“There are quite a lot of concepts in the current OfS regulatory system which sit unhappily with this new system,” she said. “For example…the concept of the completion of an award is one which is very key to the current system [of regulation], but of course a student might not be completing an award as such when they are doing a module.”
Sandby-Thomas added that there was also an OfS emphasis on the importance of high continuation rates—along with “quite a lot of judgment”. The OfS expects registered providers to have a full-time undergraduate completion rate of 75 per cent.
“Whether or not a student completes a module within or outside a year is a neutral thing, judgment-wise, in a modularised approach,” she said.
There are also issues relating to graduate outcomes and which institution should get the “credit” for modular students who study at more than one provider and then go on to successful employment. “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,” she said. “There might well be many fathers for these students.”
Elsewhere in the session, Malcolm Press, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, said universities were in favour of the introduction of the LLE, but he warned that sufficient funding would have to be made available to universities as they begin offering courses at the modular level.
“I think the LLE will open up opportunities for part-time learners and I think that is to be welcomed,” he said. However, with the value of domestic fees frozen at a maximum of £9,250 a year since 2017, the declining value of funding in real terms is a potential issue.
“I do think that the sector will continue to face challenges when it comes to delivering at quality, given the fact that the fee cap is frozen,” he said. “Nevertheless, I think the opportunity to open up learning to new groups of students is welcomed.”
Meanwhile, David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland and a former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, also welcomed the introduction of the loan entitlement—but questioned how wide the uptake of modular courses would be.
“I think the case for demand is not proven yet,” he said. “If we are going to do that modularisation, upload it all and make it all available, that’s a really big job. It’s a big job…but I am slightly concerned that people [will be] overwhelmed by choice of modules and other types of study.”