Welcome to what will be my final blog as Chief Executive of BAC, including updates on plans for regulating HE.

Having been at BAC since September 2005 and in the Chief Executive position since March 2009, it’s with sadness that I announce I have accepted a job offer with the Education and Training Foundation and will be leaving BAC on 7 February 2014. I have greatly enjoyed my time at BAC and, in particular, learning about the rich diversity and the quality of provision on offer in the private education and training sectors. With regards to my successor, BAC’s trustees are beginning the recruitment process (please find details of the position on our website and feel free to circulate to interested parties). In the meantime, I’m very pleased to confirm that Sheila Needham (BAC’s Chief Inspector) will, in the interim period, take up the reins and ensure that our core inspection and accrediting business continues unabated.

In other news, I attended the Study UK conference on 16 December 2013, where David Willetts (Universities Minister) spoke about plans for new regulatory policy for higher education, utilising a common framework I expect that this will draw the public and private HE sectors even closer together, with Willetts stating that he looks forward to a day when there is a single regime for all providers, regardless of their historic origins.

Willetts also offered some further detail regarding the recent announcement that plans are afoot to remove student number controls, in part financed by the sale of parts of the student loan book. Willetts clarified that the removal of the cap will not immediately be applied to all providers, but that there will be ‘high standards’ which providers will be required to meet in order to be eligible. It is clear that the policy linked to this announcement is still in very early stages and there wasn’t much detail forthcoming around how providers could demonstrate these ‘high standards’. A case of watch this space.

On a different tact, delegates attending the Study UK conference questioned George Shirley (of the new UK Visas and Immigration) on the issue of the lack of working rights for international (Tier 4) students, which continues to be a frustration, particularly now that all sponsors are subject to review by either QAA or ISI. Shirley stated that this policy remains in place due to clear evidence (presumably held by UKVI and/or the Home Office) that students at private providers are more likely to abuse the terms of their visa. It seems unlikely that this issue will be revisited in the short term. However, he did add that cross-sector regulation would be a first step towards altering the current two-tier landscape.

Don’t forget to check out Study UK’s range of upcoming events and training for 2014, from workshops on ‘Planning for Effective Delivery in the Classroom’ (16 January) to ‘Managing Difficult People’ (24 January). Please find a complete list on their website.

In other news, BAC has recently signed a contract with the British Council Albania to conduct a review of the current HE quality assurance framework and mechanisms. This month, we will be sending a team of experts to Tirana to carry out the preliminary scoping work to explore and review the current HE quality assurance mechanisms. Readers may recall that we carried out a similar project for British Council Kosovo in 2008 and that we are currently working with the Higher Education Council in Bahrain to develop and implement an academic accreditation system.

On a final note, I would like to introduce a new member to BAC’s team: Janna Ruddy. Janna is our Marketing and Communications Officer and is someone who I hope you will hear from increasingly over the next few months and beyond. Originally from Norfolk, she’s been working in higher education for the past three years in Chile, as both a School Director and an English Language teacher. Now back in the UK, she’s keen to get out and meet our colleges to learn more about the private education and training sector and be able to put faces to all the names!

My best wishes for 2014 to all and I hope that our paths will cross as we continue to navigate the challenges and opportunities faced by the education sector. I will be having some farewell drinks in London on Thursday 6 February. Please email janna.ruddy@the-bac.org if you would like to join us.

Dr Gina Hobson
Chief Executive