Protecting the name of a University

‘University’ is a protected word. We should be looking to all regulators to protect it, especially the Office for Students. So here’s a curious thing.

At present there are two routes for corporations who wish to use it. The Privy Council can an make an Order of Council under section 76(1) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Companies House can approve the use under section 55 or 1194 of the Companies Act 2006, following a letter of non-objection from DfE. In each case, the Privy Council and DfE have regard to whether the organisation meets the criteria:

An organisation wishing to apply for approval to use the title ‘university’ or ‘university college’:

• must have been granted powers to award taught degrees;

• must be able to demonstrate that it has regard to the principles of good governance as are relevant to its sector; and

• (for university title only) must normally have at least 1,000 full time equivalent higher education students, of whom at least 750 are registered on degree courses (including foundation degree programmes); and the number of full time equivalent higher education students must exceed 55 per cent of the total number of full time equivalent students.

Guidance for Higher Education Providers: Criteria and Process for applying for University Title and University College Title, BIS 2015

There is a loophole, which I have complained about, in that DfE have provided letters of non-objection to providers who are franchising courses using ‘university’ in their title as long as it is included with another word (which is not ‘college’). Hence UA92 and UCFB have ‘university’ in their long title. There are also the ‘university centres‘ in Further Education Colleges – although the approval of their title is not particularly transparent and sub-editors on local newspapers invariably drop the qualifying word (such as here with the proposed University Campus North Lincolnshire).

One of the areas that the Office for Students has been designed to tackle is the split of responsibility between them, as regulator, and the Privy Council, DfE and Companies House. The current arrangements end on 31 March, and the OfS will become responsible for the whole regulatory side, with QAA providing the advice against the criteria.

One curious area will be international universities. There are many universities based elsewhere who have branch campuses in the UK. These range in scale and complexity. There are currently 38 overseas providers who hold a Tier 4 Licence, but there are other universities who fit alongside UK universities (such as Stanford or Georgia who run outposts in Oxford) whose students are here for shorter periods. If they’ve not attempted to offer a British degree, or seek specific course designation, then they’ve been allowed to call themselves by their overseas name. New York University in London is ok.

Some want to be a hybrid though. Richmond, the American International University in London, has been given a place on the OfS Register with an ongoing E2 condition about its UK functions being subject to English Law. Richmond has taught degree awarding powers alongside its American accreditation and has been approved via the companies act route to use ‘university’.

So, it’s curious then that Amity Global Education Ltd, which trades as Amity University [IN] London, has been allowed on the register without qualification about its title. OfS note that it does not have the right to use ‘university’ in its title, but it is doing so consistently in its trading activities – its documentation uses ‘university’ throughout, including its Student Protection Plan. Amity is on the Tier 4 Register as a private provider, submits accounts to companies house, but its directors are officers of Amity University in India.

The QAA reported that the Amity University [IN] London title had been approved for use by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2013. It’s not immediately clear on which basis this was done. Amity University [IN] London has courses franchised to it, including PhD registrations, but remains very small. It’s neither a UK institution that has an obvious basis to use the title or an international institution that isn’t offering UK degrees.

No doubt this will all get sorted. On 1 April OfS will be the regulator for university title in both its forms. One hopes it will have a look at the letters of non-objection previously issued by government departments and wonder whether these fit with the regulatory framework. It’s probably a simple thing to ensure that providers that do not have the right to use ‘university’ in their title, but are using it, are not admitted to the register. OfS also have the explicit power to revoke the use of ‘university’ by providers not on the register.

When the Conservatives nearly introduced a Graduate Contribution Scheme.

At some point in 2019 the Conservative government will have to conclude their review of post-18 education funding, informed by the panel chaired by Philip Augar. Once the review has concluded, there will be the issue of getting any legislative changes through parliament. This is a very public piece of policy creation; announced by the Prime Minister at a party conference, and still able to command front pages of Sunday newspapers.

What if a Conservative government accepted the need for changes to the way that universities were funded, drew up a policy that would have graduates contribute to the cost, but then had to back down because the parliamentary arithmetic was all wrong, not least because of the problems it was having over Europe. Yes, its 1993.

John Patten was Secretary of State for Education in 1993 and conscious that the newly merged sector was under financial pressure from the growth in student numbers. The government faced a decision: move back from its 1 in 3 participation target or increase funding. A briefing note was prepared for John Major by Nick True, Deputy Head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit.

You can see – Major has said ‘No’ to renouncing the target (thanks Michael Portillo for that suggestion). The proposal in its place would be to extend the loan scheme to cover the part of the income raised through tuition fees. In the early 1990s a dual funding system existed whereby the new funding councils paid a grant, but the ‘fee’ was still paid on the students’ behalf by the LEA.

The scheme would be controversial – the fee would be £750, graduates would only start to pay back if they were earning 85% of the national average wage. The briefing concludes, presciently :

This is tricky territory, but not indefensible. No doubt Labour or the Liberals could make fine promises to students in 1996/97 election. … They might promise restoration of free tuition, or a reversal of the whole loan regime. Our weak position among the student vote could be further eroded, but its effects are unlikely to run wider – and we have to do something to raise resources to meet our long term objectives.

True, N., 1993 p2 (Original emphasis)

It’s agreed that this can go to the Ed(H) cabinet committee, where it is simultaneously supported in principle but noted that the Whips’ think it is unlikely to command a majority in the House of Commons. By the next month it’s noted that John Patten accepts that the idea is dead, but he has permission to continue with his Education Bill containing provisions for teacher training and students’ unions (both long term projects expected to be popular with the party in the country).

It is not particularly well known that government had formally considered a graduate contribution scheme three years before the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education was established. There were more years of the decline of the unit of resource to go before that. The General Policy on Education files in the PREM19 series of Prime Minister’s papers show the other education priorities competing for attention (alongside Major’s European problems). These included a charter for further and higher education as part of Major’s Citizen’s Charter initiative. However the chief education policy issue was the revised national curriculum with the issue of new vocational courses, which was being ably led by Sir Ron Dearing. Dearing, of course, would go on to propose a graduate contribution scheme.

True, N., 1993 Higher Education Funding – Charging for Tuition
TNA PREM 19/4099