England’s higher education watchdog on Thursday said it will investigate the quality of business and management courses at eight universities.
The Office for Students (OfS) said the investigation will examine whether the universities had replaced in-person teaching with poor-quality online learning after the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
It will also look at how effective the courses and assessments are delivered, how many contact hours students receive, and whether there are sufficient learning resources and academic support available to students.
The OfS will also look at grade inflation in its future inspections.
The investigations are the first in a series of “boots on the ground” inspections announced by Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan earlier this year.
Donelan told the PA news agency that the OfS had chosen the eight institutions on the basis of a “range of factors” including student feedback from the notification process and the National Student Survey, as well as outcome data, dropout rates, and other intelligence which revealed “a great variation in that subject provision.”
Of the eight providers, five had dropout rates of 40 percent, the minister said.
The OfS has not named the universities and colleges at this time but said it expects to publish further details soon.
It said it chose to first focus on business and management courses because it’s a “large subject area where there is significant variation in performance across the sector.” The watchdog also said it selected a sample of “a single subject area with a large student population” as it would enable it to understand patterns of provider behaviour.
According to OfS interim Chief Executive Susan Lapworth, there are around 400,000 business and management students at OfS-registered providers every year.
Commenting on the new round of investigations, Lapworth said: “We know that students have endured an exceptionally difficult time during the pandemic. While most courses have returned to normal, it is right for the OfS to consider whether some universities and colleges are selling students short.”
She added that the investigations signaled “a shift for the OfS to active regulation of quality in the higher education sector.”
“As well as the direct impact on the courses under investigation, this work sends a clear message to all universities and colleges we regulate that they should ensure that all their courses are well taught, well resourced, and provide students with a credible qualification that stands the test of time,” she said.
“Where that is the case, they should not be concerned about our regulation. Where it is not, we are ready to require improvement and to consider imposing sanctions.”
Donelan said the quality of education has been her “relentless focus” because of its “strong link with social mobility.”
“If we don’t have courses across the board that are high quality, students will then start a course that they might not finish, that might not lead them to a graduate job, that won’t give them that outcome that they deserve when undertaking such an investment in their time and money.”
She said there will be more inspections in June and July but added it was not that the government wanted “X amount of investigations” but needed confidence in quality.
“Overall, we have some of the world’s very best provision and we are leading the way in a number of fields,” she said.
The Teaching Excellence Framework was also being revamped to “drive up quality within the sector” through a new “Requires Improvement” category.
“We’re also making sure that universities are much more transparent about their dropout rates and also their outcome data, so that students can make informed choices, but again that will change behaviour within the sector and drive up quality,” the minister added.
PA Media contributed to this report.