Thursday, 19 June 2014

Lancaster University tuition-outsourcing proposal deferred

Lancaster University's Senate yesterday considered a proposal to allow external bodies to set up a 'Pathway to Part II' for 1st year students who failed to meet first year (Part I) entry requirements. Following a number of objections, the proposal has been withdrawn / deferred, pending further consultation.
See yesterday's news item: 'Lancaster University to outsource first year degree teaching?'

Lancaster University news source Subtext informs us that the proposal came from Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor Steve Bradley, whose proposal paper set out a framework for approving external partnerships that would involve the participation of departments, faculty teaching committees and the University-level Collaborative Provision Oversight Committee (CPOC).

The first year of any Lancaster University degree course is called Part I. Part I courses taken in the first year end with Part I exams, which must be passed with qualifying grades to gain entry to Part II - the second and third years. Fail and you're out.

The proposal appears to have been aimed at enabling private companies to assist well-funded international students who were unable to meet first year degree entry standards, in making their way through Part II - the second and third year of a degree course. Part I courses taken in the first year of a Lancaster University degree course lead to Part I exams at the end of the academic year which must be passed with qualifying grades to gain entry to Part II. Fail and you're out.

The 'external body' in the first instance is Study Group International Ltd (SGI), the global student recruitment and training corporation which owns the International Study Centre on the Lancaster University campus. SGI's private foundation courses for international students at Lancaster currently offer English Language tuition and preparation for exams for UK degree course entry qualifications, within the context of a high-ranking UK university setting. They play a significant role in making Lancaster University an attractive academic choice for overseas students.

A number of problems associated with having an external body offering a 'Part I Plus' were raised, including:

  • there was far more to Part I than the academic experience, which would be lost by handing it over to an external body

  • Part I currently offers first year students the opportunity to select three courses from a very diverse  range of subjects on offer, dependent on their entry qualifications. Students thus enjoy a unique opportunity to explore at a higher level at least one subject that, while apparently unrelated to their major of choice, could greatly enrich their perspectives. It was unlikely that an external body could offer such a broadening range. It would have to cherry-pick.

  • One of the previous arrangements with an external college  to deliver selected course modules had been terminated because of inadequate delivery quality. Unfortunately it was cited as a precedent in the proposal.

  • Senate was being asked to agree to allow external, for-profit organisations who may not even be education providers to deliver a key part of the core academic business of the university. When the partnership with International Study Group had first been proposed in 2006 Senate had been assured that such outsourcing would never happen.

  • The proposal represented a 'slippery slope' to privatisation

  • The university's reputation could be significantly damaged.

Prof Bradley withdrew his proposal pending further consideration. Vice Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith gave Senate an undertaking that no new partnership 'outwith current procedures' would be entered into.

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