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'Chancer's charter' persists in alternative higher education sector

7 March 2018

The Public Accounts Committee report says Office for Students must prioritise action on malpractice and honour commitment to protect students' interests.

Serious allegations show Department has not done enough

Serious allegations of fraudulent practices at alternative providers show that the Department for Education has not done enough to close down opportunities to play the system, allowing the sector to become a 'chancer's charter'.

Since the Committee previously reported in 2015, the Department has made some progress in strengthening its oversight of alternative providers. Fewer students are dropping out of their courses, and the Department has strengthened controls and committed more resources to tackling fraud.

One in four students still not completing their courses

However, one in four students at alternative providers are still not completing their courses, compared to one in ten in the rest of the higher education sector, and a further £10 million has been paid out to students or providers who are not eligible for student loan funding.

We expect the new Office for Students to learn the lessons from the Department's experience to date when it takes over responsibility for the alternative provider sector.

Chair's comments

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"The new Office for Students has already faced intense scrutiny for a controversial board appointment but more ingrained challenges await.

From next month it assumes responsibility for regulating an alternative HE sector tainted by allegations of fraud and with a non-continuation rate more than twice that found in the rest of higher education.

This deprives students of vital skills and, potentially, the public purse of money loaned to pay for their studies. Sanctions for providers have had some effect but this blunt-instrument approach only goes so far. New thinking is required.

Inadequate data continues to hamper oversight and efforts to withhold loans from ineligible students. The Department for Education and Student Loans Company, together with the OfS, must raise their game here.

The OfS was established with an explicit commitment to put the interests of students at the heart of its work. This is commendable but honouring that commitment will be more challenging than making it.

Bad apples must be cast out and as a priority we urge the OfS to assert its authority and detail exactly how it will tackle the fraud and malpractice that continues to blight the alternative sector."

Further information

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