Office for Students to investigate uni’s subcontractors

Leeds Trinity University faces regulatory probe over subcontracting

Leeds Trinity University faces regulatory probe over subcontracting

22 Feb 2024, 17:31

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An investigation has been launched into “potential concerns” over a university’s subcontracting arrangements which include a further education college and multiple private providers.

The Office for Students (OfS) is looking into the governance arrangements and quality of courses delivered by partners of Leeds Trinity University.

The OfS said it has identified “potential concerns that require further scrutiny”

This is believed to be the first time the higher education regulator has launched an investigation specifically into a university’s franchising and validating arrangements. 

Leeds Trinity lists seven domestic and two international “academic partners” that deliver foundation to master’s level degrees on its behalf. 

For example, Waltham International College, a private provider which was graded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2022, delivers three bachelor’s degrees with foundation years in partnership with Leeds Trinity. 

Leeds Trinity badged degrees are also offered at Applied Business Academy, Global Banking School, LD Training Services, Results Consortium and Scholars School System. 

Degree courses at Barnsley College are validated by the university.

Just over 7,300 students were on subcontracted out courses in 2021/22 according to OfS data. Most of them, 6,540, were full-time undergraduates.

Student numbers in four UK partner private providers grew to “over 9,000” according to the university’s 2022/23 accounts.

The OfS refused to explain whether its “potential concerns” related to a specific contractor but said its investigation will check the quality of courses on offer, the effectiveness of the university’s management and governance and its compliance. 

“The investigation will consider whether Leeds Trinity University has complied with general ongoing conditions of registration, and any matters relevant to the provider’s authorisation for degree awarding powers in relation to its partnerships,” the OfS said. 

It stressed that launching an investigation does not mean the university has necessarily broken any rules. 

If the investigation reveals a breach, the OfS can impose conditions of registration, monetary penalties or revoke degree awarding powers. 

A Leeds Trinity University spokesperson said: “As a responsible higher education provider we understand and take seriously our obligation to comply with all relevant rules and guidelines to meet the sector’s regulatory requirements. Leeds Trinity University will work with the Office for Students to ensure transparency and assurance in relation to the institution’s franchise partnership arrangements.  

“Widening participation is at the heart of Leeds Trinity’s ethos and has been for many years. Franchise partnerships are one of a number of ways in which the University enables social mobility and raising aspirations in groups traditionally under-represented in higher education.”

It comes a month after the National Audit Office published a damning report on higher education franchising which called for greater oversight in light of fraud and abuse. 

The government’s audit watchdog found that 53 per cent of the £4.1 million of student loan fraud in 2022/23 was at franchised HE providers, even though franchised students only make up 6.5 per cent of Student Loan Company funded students.

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  1. How about EDA College, a near-dormant for-profit company, with questionable promoters, getting a brand new franchise agreement from Newman University, though it is subject to NAO investigation? Do Universities care about such inquiries?

    Monies exchanged with Uni insiders to get agreements? The most common model is Uni insiders engaging agents to make franchise deals with phoney providers for a fee and take a cut. When genuine providers approach the same Uni’s, they are told they are not taking any new partners.