This summer it was announced that Royal Holloway and publishing giant Pearson would enter into a partnership that would allow the publisher to offer four vocational degrees at further education colleges across the country. The university would validate and substantiate the degree, whilst Pearson, one of the world’s principal publishers, would develop it.
Pearson, which does not have the power to award degrees itself, expects the courses to be available from September 2012 and is in talks with colleges that could potentially teach the degrees. This move comes after the recent publication of a government white paper on higher education written by the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willets, outlining plans to “make it easier for new providers to enter the sector”. Although other companies such as McDonalds offer degrees in partnership with universities, this is the first instance with a company that already offers other qualifications; Pearson provides vocational courses such as BTEC’s and HND’s and owns the exam board, Edexcel.
At present in the UK there are five private companies, one of which is for profit, that have the power to award degrees; a status that Pearson ultimately hopes to obtain. In his recent government white paper, David Willets detailed plans to set aside 20,000 places to degree providers charging less than £7,500 a year with it expected that the majority would go to private companies such as Pearson and further education colleges. This has been seen as a move to remedy the fact that many universities will be charging £9,000 a year from 2012. Pearson announced its plans to offer vocational degrees at “competitive” prices after meeting with Willets in December 2010, after the minister also met representatives of the Education Management Corporation (EDMC) and Apollo, two private American companies currently under investigation for improper student recruitment practises. The meetings have attracted criticism from both the opposition and the lecturers’ union. Labour MP Barry Gardiner describes the meetings between Willets, who spoke at a 2010 Pearson conference, and these private companies as “extraordinary and appalling” whilst the general secretary of the lecturers’ union has expressed concern at the idea of ‘for-profit’ degrees commenting: “Events in America have shown the for-profit model is fraught with danger for student and taxpayer alike”.
However Rod Bristow, the president of Pearson UK, has stated that the degree would give students greater choice letting them “study closer to home, [and] do some of it online”. The course is expected to cost £7,500 or less in light of the outlined government plans yet currently no fees have been announced and it is unclear whether this amount will be set by the company or the colleges and whether it can be removed from the state subsidised tuition scheme. The deputy principal of Royal Holloway, Professor Rob Kemp, has said of the partnership that: “Our founders, in opening colleges for women in the 19th century, were the first to address the challenge of widening access and we are delighted to continue with tradition today by supporting Pearson in this initiative”.