College group becomes first FE institution with permanent degree powers

The Office for Students deemed NCG worthy to award bachelors and masters degrees indefinitely this month

The Office for Students deemed NCG worthy to award bachelors and masters degrees indefinitely this month

NCG has become the first further education college group to be granted permanent awarding powers for taught degrees up to masters level.

The Office for Students (OfS) has confirmed that, with effect from June 1, it removed the time limit on NCG’s degree awarding powers, making it the first FE institution with indefinite taught degree-awarding powers.

Jon Ridley, NCG’s deputy principal for higher education, described the milestone as a “gamechanger” for the organisation, giving it the ability to plan longer term and expand its “full tertiary” offer in Newcastle and beyond.

NCG, formerly known as Newcastle College Group, is one of England’s largest groups with seven colleges across the country under its belt. Its degree-awarding powers apply across all its college sites, though most of its HE provision is currently delivered at its Newcastle College University Centre.

Higher education providers are initially awarded taught degree-awarding powers with a time limit. NCG was first awarded the powers by the Privy Council in 2016 until July 2022. This time limit was extended by two years by the OfS in July 2022, and removed altogether this month.  

“NCG has a long, proud history as a provider of higher technical education stretching back decades, and we have been an awarding institution for over 10 years,” Ridley said.

“Having taught degree-awarding powers without time limit recognises the quality of our higher education. This is a first for a college-based HE provider and supports our ambition to be the country’s leading provider of higher technical education.”

This is the latest in a run of firsts for the group’s higher education portfolio. The then-Newcastle College Group was among the first FE colleges to be granted foundation degree-awarding powers in 2011. It was then the first FE institution to receive time-limited taught bachelors and masters degree-awarding powers in 2016.

There are other colleges, such as WCG and TEC Partnership, with bachelors degree-awarding powers, though these are, for now, still time limited. And private provider Multiverse received the power to award its own degrees in certain subjects in September, though they too are time limited. 

NCG’s offer currently boasts a BA(Hons) in fine art, BSc(Hons) in aircraft engineering and an MBA.

“This is a full tertiary solution,” Ridley said. “You can arrive here with no qualifications and leave with a masters, on your doorstep.”

The final approval for NCG came after a “rigorous” assessment process with the OfS, Ridley said.

“Do you have the right academic structures, are you self-critical as an organisation, can you uphold the standards of higher education? We’ve had to prove that we’ve sustained that level and also grown as an institution.

“It is gamechanger because now we can plan with confidence.”

Jon Ridley at the Newcastle Aviation Academy

The college’s higher education prospectus boasts smaller class sizes and dedicated HE student services as part of its offer, which must be important with two large universities – Newcastle University and Northumbria University ­– on its doorstep.

Higher education accounted for around £19 million of the group’s £136 million total income in 21/22, with learner numbers hovering between 2,300 and 2,400 over the past four years.

For Ridley, being the only FE institution with indefinite awarding powers could catalyse new partnerships with other colleges and providers.

He said: “Our ambition is to grow our partnership work with other colleges and providers, but that has got to align with our values and principles.

“We are going to do degree apprenticeships, we are going to do modular. We are already doing those things. Our focus is on degrees and higher-level study that leads into employment or to better somebody’s opportunities.”

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