Concerns over UK Tier 4 qualifications

23 January, 2014

A review of qualifications offered to non-EU students at private further education institutions in the UK has raised concerns about quality, with two thirds of awarding organisations not meeting required standards, according to qualifications regulator Ofqual.

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The report, Awarding Organisations Operating in the Tier 4 Market, follows a review launched in 2012 after standards complaints were raised, and sampled 13 of the 29 qualification awarding bodies. The main finding was that two-thirds of the organisations have qualifications with subject content and assessments that do not meet the required standards for the level.

All of the awarding organisations scrutinised submitted examples of student work that subject experts believed did not meet required levels, despite having been cleared by the awarding bodies as a pass, and two-thirds of all the examples of student work scrutinised were found to show performance below the level required by the qualification.

Jane Farleigh, Director of Regulatory Operations at Ofqual, said, “The review is not about the legality of students’ entry in the UK. Our role is to make sure that the awarding organisations offering qualifications used in this sector are meeting the standards required of them.”

Ofqual has published notice of intention to withdraw recognition of qualifications from the Accrediting & Assessment Bureau for Post-Secondary Schools Limited (AABPS), and recently withdrew recognition of qualifications from the London Centre of Marketing (LCM).

Advice has been issued for international students currently studying towards a qualification delivered by these bodies. “We would urge anyone taking an AABPS or LCM qualification who has concerns over their studies to talk to their college. We have asked schools and colleges to be ready to give advice and guidance to them on their options,” said Farleigh.

Ofqual said that the other awarding organisations had already taken action to address many of the concerns raised. As further steps, Ofqual will be requiring awarding organisations to strengthen processes for developing qualification and assessment, moderating student work and approving and monitoring colleges; will continue to focus monitoring on the quality of student work so that passes can only be awarded when all required course content is covered; and will extend the review to the remainder of the awarding organisations in the Tier 4 market.

“It is important that students are treated fairly and have access to high-quality qualifications. Where this is not the case and students are being let down by qualifications that are not up to scratch, we will take action,” said Farleigh.

Ofqual identified potential contributory factors to the fall in standards, including: insufficient expertise within the awarding organisations at qualification levels 6 and 7; students lacking relevant experience required for a vocational qualification; a lack of robust processes for risk management and quality assurance; and a possible compromise of standards to gain commercial advantage.

The report notes that the number of student visas issued for study at further education level has fallen considerably since the introduction of changes to the student visa system in 2011, which included the removal of work rights for non-EU students at private institutions.

“The interviews we carried out with awarding organisations and centres point to the introduction of these enhanced work restrictions as being a key factor in the sharp decline in Tier 4 student numbers, which in turn has made the market more competitive than ever, with awarding organisations and centres vying for the business of a diminishing pool of prospective students,” said Ofqual in the report.

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