College drops computing degrees over ‘credibility’ concerns

Bradford College becomes first FE college to undergo Office for Students quality investigation

Bradford College becomes first FE college to undergo Office for Students quality investigation

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A college has scrapped its computing degrees after an investigation by the higher education regulator raised concerns over their “credibility” and level of “educational challenge”. 

The Office for Students (OfS) has published a review into Bradford College’s BSc (Hons) computing degrees, the first assessment of its kind of higher education course quality at an FE college. 

The quality assessment team questioned the “validity” of the college’s computing degrees after its four-month investigation in late 2022 found concerns around the marking criteria and the higher-level courses were not challenging enough. 

Bradford College told FE Week it would discontinue its six computing degrees after this academic year but said it had already conducted an internal review before the OfS investigation. 

The news follows the government’s vow to crackdown on low quality “rip-off” degrees with high drop-out rates that do not lead to high-paid jobs, announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak last July

Bradford College currently offers 97 higher education courses, according to its website.  

College governors discussed a drop in forecasted HE student numbers in March. Last year the college received just over £7.3 million in higher education tuition fees, 4 per cent less than the year before, out of its total £80 million budget. 

Courses ‘lacked educational challenge’ 

The OfS began its quality assessment in December 2022 and concluded in April 2023, having conducted staff and student interviews and observed teaching sessions. 

In the 2022/23 academic year, there were 72 full-time and two part-time students studying across six BSc (Hons) computing courses at the college.  

The courses are validated by the University of Bolton. This means that the college is responsible for the design and delivery of each course and the university carries out approval, review and validation.  

All students graduating from one of the college’s BSc (Hons) computing courses receive a University of Bolton qualification. 

The review found some assessments were not “valid or reliable” and “lenient marking” meant students could have passed without demonstrating a level of skill and knowledge needed for a computer science graduate. The OfS said this questioned “the credibility of the relevant awards granted to students”. 

The report found the completion rate for full-time, first-degree students in computing over four years was 72.1 per cent, below the OfS threshold of 75 per cent. 

From interviews with students and comparing course materials with A-level computer science specifications, the OfS team found the degree modules were not challenging enough “beyond level 3” for a “credible” computer science degree. 

The report said: “During discussions with a group of six level 6 students, where course delivery and assessments (including the final year project) were discussed, the students reported that, in their opinion, there was generally little difference in the level of challenge between the modules taught to them at level 3 and level 4. 

“Bradford College has not ensured that students registered on the relevant courses received a high-quality academic experience because the courses lacked educational challenge, coherence in relation to depth of content and did not require students to develop relevant technical skills.” 

The OfS was given a mandate to examine the quality of assessments at higher education institutions in the 2022/23 academic year. To date, it has commissioned reviews into business and management courses at seven universities, including the University of Bolton. It also opened an investigation into computing courses at Goldsmiths College in London. 

On Bradford College’s report, Jean Arnold, deputy director of quality at the OfS, said: “The assessment team were concerned the marking criteria used for more technical assessments may not have been designed for the assessment of this type of work, leading to concerns around the credibility of the qualifications offered. 

“The assessment team also found that students may achieve higher grades than their technical skills were able to demonstrate, raising concerns that the awards may not be credible.” 

A Bradford College spokesperson said: “We are open to the findings of the recent OfS quality assessment report relating to our BSc (Hons) computing courses and addressing any identified areas of improvement. 

“However, the college undertook an internal review of this area prior to the assessment and has already executed plans to target these concerns.  

“As such, the BSc (Hons) computing programmes will discontinue after current students complete their studies this academic year. The college is also working with local employers to develop a range of relevant alternative higher technical qualifications that will boost in-demand regional skills and ensure we retain computing progression routes.” 

The University of Bolton declined to comment. 

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2 Comments

  1. First & second university degree rates:

    1994/95 – 47.3%
    2011/12 – 61.4%
    2021/22 – 82%

    Difficult to flog student loans and a lifetime of debt on a 47.3% gamble of a good result.

    I’m sure the OfS are as effective as OfSTED, OfGEM, OfWAT & OfCOM in protecting the consumer. (or should that be protecting policy makers from consumers?)

    The outstanding student loan debt bubble has inflated to over £200bn as of March 2023 (quadrupling every decade since its introduction).

    It’s hard to see it ending well, so it will be ignored until the bubble bursts, which it inevitably will. Unless… it goes the way of Japan where a 100 year mortgage product was created that can be passed on to your offspring.

    I’ll bet it’s being considered, but a tough one for the marketing dept!