The Independent Higher Education (IHE) survey 2018 differs in important aspects from the previous survey conducted in 2017. While the sample size is similar, there has been a significant change in the respondents completing the survey, and the inclusion of different questions. This makes comparisons between the results of the two surveys difficult.
A principal aim of the survey is ‘present a snapshot of a rapidly evolving part of the higher education sector.’ The survey was completed in September/October 2018.
The survey results are based on 110 providers. Using student headcount in 2017/18, 19% of providers had between 1 and 100 students; 36% between 101 and 500 students; 23% between 501 and 1000 students; 21% between 1001 and 5000; and 1% more than 5000 students. IHE suggests the responses received ‘reflect the overall pattern of independent HE provider size, with 80% of “alternative providers” (being those who return data to HESA) having 1000 students or less.’
The majority of providers (66%) teach degree courses. Most students were studying on full-time courses, with 16% of students studying part-time. Most students come from the UK. In total, the respondents teach 94,052 students. Most respondents to the survey were based in London, followed by the South East.
For the first time the survey asked questions about corporate governance. Almost half of respondents (47%) were a charity, part of a charity or a not-for-profit company. Over a third of providers were part of a larger charity or company.
55% of respondents were designated by the Department for Education (DfE) for student support, and 45% had a Tier 4 licence. Only 33% were both designated for student support and had a Tier 4 licence.
The survey sought information about the registration of providers with the Office for Students (OfS). The removal of the Basic category of registration had led some providers to decide not to seek to register with the OfS. Comments made by respondents suggested the cost of registration might be a factor influencing their decision. However, there was also an increase in providers choosing to register under the Approved Fee Category.
Over half of providers had applied to register with the OfS, with a further 20% planning to do so by July 2019. The largest proportion of these have more than 500 students. Almost 80% of providers were motivated to register by the desire to gain access to student loans, 63% because they had a Tier 4 licence for international students and 38% by the process for Degree Awarding Powers.
Different comments were made in respect of respondents' experience of the OfS registration process. There was some concern that OfS’s guidance lack detail and ‘the correct understanding of independent higher education providers to facilitate registration.’ Comments were also made as to delays associated with the process of registration. However, a large majority of comments received were positive.
As part of the survey, IHE attempted to estimate the overall costs of registration. IHE’s calculations suggest that the median fee per student per annum for providers with a small student body is significantly higher that for institutions with larger student numbers.
The survey asked respondents to select their priorities for the next 3 years. The most commonly identified priorities were marketing and recruitment, followed by academic governance.
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