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Some colleges 'need to improve' HE provision, warns QAA

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More than two-thirds of colleges reviewed in the past year achieved “satisfactory outcomes” in their delivery of higher education, according to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

The QAA's second higher education review, published today, reveals that 70 per cent of those colleges which were reviewed in 2014-15 were judged satisfactory, and 8 per cent received one or more commendation.

However, 17 of the 62 colleges assessed received one of more “unsatisfactory” judgements, with the enhancement of provision the most common area which attracted criticism. According to the report, three colleges received unsatisfactory judgements in three out of four judgement areas.

Will Naylor, director of quality assurance at QAA, said that at its best “college higher education continues to provide a learning experience that exceeds UK expectations”. “However, clearly some college higher education providers need to improve their performance if they are to meet UK expectations. This is important as, behind the reviews and the data, there are students who are entitled to excellent teaching and a great student experience,” he said. The report adds that colleges with larger provision generally perform better.

Nick Davy, HE policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said it was “a little bit disappointing” that there had been only “a small improvement over last year”. However, he stressed there was an upward trend in performance. “We expected the improvements to be faster. We have learned from the first year of QAA and have been talking to colleges about approaches to higher education review,” he added.

Mr Davy also raised issues around proportionality within the assessment. “It does seem not quite right that a college with less than 100 HE students gets a three-day visit by the review team, and a university with 15,000-20,000 undergraduate students gets a four-day visit. That doesn’t seem quite right for us.”

Meanwhile, a separate report published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute raises concerns about a drop of almost 50 per cent in the number of part-time HE learners between 2010-11 and 2013-14. In one chapter, David Hughes, chief executive of adult learning body Niace, argues that part-time courses must be “more than simply smaller or slower versions of a full course”, while John Widdowson (pictured), chair of the Mixed Economy Group and the AoC president, highlights the potential for employer-sponsored provision to attract part-time students.
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