Changes in funding arrangements for UK Higher Education provision, has seen a marked increase in the number of Alternative Providers (AP’s). Fielden and Middlehurst (2017) cite BIS statistics to report Alternative Providers of Higher Education rose from 670 in 2013 to 732 in 2017 and describe AP’s as “a fast moving and complex group” (:4). This group includes; for profit providers, sub-degree colleges, generalist colleges serving both undergraduates and postgraduates, small specialist providers, not-for-profit colleges, for-profit distance learning providers, and overseas campuses. One third of these providers have less than 100 students. Many of these institutions work in partnership to offer higher level qualifications validated at traditional universities but others do not. While the offerings of institutions working in partnership with universities are seen as better than others, successive BIS Reports (2013, 2016) have reflected wider concerns taken up by Parliamentary Committees and the QAA (2016). These concerns and the implementation of the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (DBIS, 2017) will provide significant challenges to validating Universities in terms of due diligence, management and oversight.
This paper takes an objectivist approach to investigating the challenges of managing Alternative Providers (AP’s). It extracts information from national and institutional archival data and a researched case study from a Northern UK University operating a broad spectrum of academic partnerships to form a discussion of the key aspects of successful partnership management.
Case study data was collected from 30 UK and international partners using a Likert style questionnaire based on an adaptation of Chou’s Five Determinants of successful partnership working (2012). This was followed up by 10 qualitative interviews with partners selected to represent the range of partnership types identified by Fielden and Middlehurst (2017). The institutional data is collected using a mixed methods approach and draws on partner experiences of working with the validating institution and to provide a conceptual model of oversight and management. The findings are developed into a proposed conceptual model of partnership working for discussion in which co-operative partnership working, alignment of business and education strategy, training, oversight systems and processes, communication and accessible support, play a prominent role.
University Ethical Procedures were followed in full during the collection of data and passed by the respective Research Ethics Committees.