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HEi-think: Why there must be a closer look at alternative forms of HE

Lord Norton of Louth outlines the thinking behind a new parliamentary-led inquiry he is chairing, launched by the Higher Education Commission, to investigate innovation in alternative models of delivering Higher Education.

 

Through its previous inquiries the Higher Education Commission has investigated many different aspects of the sector, including regulation, funding, and data analytics. With the Higher Education and Research Bill making its way through Parliament, the breadth of provision in higher education is very much on the political agenda.

Higher Education is not solely for those progressing straight from A-Levels. Over the years students have come from all kinds of backgrounds and through all kinds of routes at different stages of their lives. Courses and modes of study have also always been varied with some students choosing to study remotely or part-time, through the Open University or taking sandwich courses.

Indeed, the opening-up of higher education over the years has been remarkable, and as the sector becomes increasingly accessible HE providers must recognise the needs and ambitions of all kinds of learners. With the HE Bill’s proposed reforms to the HE market being premised on a desire to see greater innovation across the sector, it is time to examine whether the system is offering students a genuine choice.

For people who study in non-traditional ways, I suspect their route into higher education is also non-traditional. It’s important that we recognise this – it will inform how we as a sector make the most of talented students. The education system has been working to make sure no person is left behind and, while it’s not perfect and higher education is in a state of flux, there is a real opportunity to build upon some of the excellent work that has already done.

The Higher Education Commission’s most recent report From Bricks to Clicks, into data analytics in higher education, pointed to the fact that tailored education streams should be the future to successful student learning – well alongside data such as lectures attended and books borrowed from the library, why shouldn’t providers incorporate alternative learning approaches in their offer to students?

I am now looking forward to co-chairing the Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry investigating the growing diversity in higher education provision in the UK, considering whether the variety in the sector’s offer is effectively responding to the needs of students.

The inquiry will take a close look at institutions which offer provision that takes place outside the traditional, on-campus three-year undergraduate degree, examining whether the alternative models of provision complement the existing provision in the higher education market.

With the Higher Education and Research Bill set to instigate regulatory changes, it is important to consider whether alternative models of provision are genuinely expanding the choice for students in the market. The inquiry will examine whether these institutions offer a distinct alternative and offer recommendations for cross-sector learning.

We will be launching a call for evidence in the New Year to seek views from individuals and organisations on this topic. If you think the sector can benefit from identifying its growing diversity and wish to work with the prestigious Higher Education Commission, please contact pooja.kumari@policyconnect.org.uk

 

Lord Norton of Louth
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