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A proposal to outsource teaching for Part I courses at the University is still under consideration after being put to University Senate at the end of Summer term 2014. The proposal, which is currently undergoing changes before reconsideration would see the University jointly delivering parts of the undergraduate programme with private companies.
Pro-Vice Chancellor, International, Steve Bradley’s proposal suggests “the creation of jointly delivered undergraduate programme where the partner is not a university and does not have degree awarding powers.” He goes further, suggesting the specific involvement of “education providers or companies with expertise in professional training.”
Joe O’Neill, LUSU VP (Education), believes movements by the University to use private teaching resources would be a step in the wrong direction. “I find the issue very concerning and, if it were to continue as presented before Senate in its original guise, I am completely against it.”
Outsourced teaching would not be entirely new to the University. Study Group International, a private education provider, already supply the teaching for some international courses, such as numerous international foundation courses.
The proposal highlights Lancaster’s familiarity with the outsourcing of Part I study before completion of Part II at the University. “There is in fact a precedent for this arrangement in that Lancaster University, for several years, had an arrangement with Blackburn College of FE under which Blackburn delivered a Part I programme in Law, on successful completion of which, students qualified for admission direct to Part II of the Lancaster LLB Degree.”
O’Neill believes that although the intent to allow more people from different backgrounds a university education is admirable the nature in which it is being proposed causes concern.
“The rationale seems to be that it would open up higher education to students from a wider range of backgrounds, say those with BTECs or from otherwise less traditional routes than usual. The teaching, according to the proposal, could be done either here on the Bailrigg campus or practically anywhere else – something that worries me greatly.”
The lack of input from the Union is also something that O’Neill found disconcerting about the original proposal. “There was no provision for student representation given in the proposal and no answers as to how LUSU was going to be able to represent these students – or indeed be provided with the additional resources we would need to do so.”
However, the Senate’s criticisms of the proposal have led to alterations and consultations which may address this issue. “Luckily, the paper was withdrawn and further consultation will take place. A working group has been set up by Professor Steve Bradley and will include LUSU representation in the form of myself. We will be investigating the proposals and working through a number of potential models that this could go forward with before returning to Senate in October.
“The key question that has to be asked is this: If the idea is to provide routes into higher education for students from a wider range of backgrounds, why is Lancaster University incapable of doing this? Why does a private provider need to be brought in to do it? Is this just an exercise in mass-producing Part I education via outsourcing? It certainly looks like that’s the case.”
O’Neill raised the issue of whether Lancaster is incapable of providing this further pathway to education, but it must also be considered that, if it is appropriate for Study Group International to provide some level of teaching then surely it is qualified to extend that.
The original proposal maintains that Faculty Teaching Committees at the University would have the final say regarding the courses. Specifically the Committee would examine five key areas to ensure its quality: entry requirements, curriculum design, student progression, teacher quality and the facilities.
The proposal goes on to state that it is intending to extend the University’s courses rather than supplant them. “There is no intention to displace current departmental activity. Rather the focus is upon generating additional students in very competitive market. Faculty PRCs should be convinced of the business case for the proposed collaboration.”
Study Group International and other similar organizations have become more successful in recent years, showing the rise of for-profit higher education in the UK.
O’Neill further stated his grievances with the proposal. “There are also issues surrounding the student experience. Would a student studying a Part I degree in, say, China have the same experience as a student who was studying in Lancaster on our Bailrigg campus? Would they have the same experience of the college system? It all seems a fudged way of privatising our education through the back door in the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ name of widening participation at the expense of a quality student experience.
“I will be pushing to ensure that all Lancaster students who are being taught as Part I students will be taught by Lancaster University and not by a third party private provider. If we are to stand by the quality of our degrees, we must stand by the quality of our teaching and our ability to provide it. That can and should be done here in Bailrigg.”