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New Higher Education Institutions in England: A real chance to innovate?

The research looks at new HEIs set up in England over the past few years, exploring the guiding principles and challenges of setting up, as well as the opportunities for innovative practices. The report sets out how/if these HEIs have been able to truly diversify the HE landscape, for example through offering engaging pedagogies.

London, England – Edge Foundation is proud to announce the release of their latest research report titled “New Higher Education Institutions in England: A Real Chance to Innovate?” The report provides valuable insights into the emerging landscape of higher education in the UK, with a focus on new higher education institutions (HEIs) that have arisen in response to the government’s 2017 Higher Education and Research Act. The Act set out to make it easier and quicker for new higher education providers to start-up, attain degree awarding powers and secure university status. The policy intent was for these new HEIs to be high quality and innovative in order to diversify the HE landscape and bring diversity to the sector.

The research, conducted by Education and Policy Senior Researcher Kat Emms, Andrea Laczik, Director of Research and Researcher Josh Patel at the Edge Foundation, aims to explore how these new HEIs are redefining the higher education landscape, preparing students to be more employable, and equipping them to tackle complex challenges in the 21st century.

Key findings from the research include:

1. Responding to regional needs: Many new HEIs have been established in response to a lack of higher education opportunities in certain regions. By addressing local employer needs and skills shortages, these institutions are making higher education more accessible and impactful for their communities.

2. Collaborative structures: Some new HEIs have collaborated with existing universities to validate their degrees, while others have pursued their own degree awarding powers. These new institutions are also leveraging partnerships and industry collaborations to create relevant and up-to-date course content that responds to local skills needs.

3. Holistic approaches to admissions: New HEIs adopt a more holistic approach to student recruitment, considering personal attitudes and potential alongside academic grades. Broader admission measures, such as interviews and ‘selfie’ video submissions, are utilised to assess applicants’ suitability.

4. Interdisciplinary learning: Interdisciplinarity is at the core of many degree programmess offered by new HEIs. By equipping students with knowledge and skills from a range of disciplines, these institutions try to prepare graduates to tackle complex real-world problems effectively.

5. Student-centered teaching: Traditional lectures are mostly replaced by problem-based teaching approaches, where students collaborate in teams to address real-world challenges with industry relevance. Traditional examination methods are also avoided, with a broader range of authentic assessment methods being employed instead, such as writing a business strategy or building a website.

6. Emphasising broader skills and competencies: New HEIs prioritise the development of professional and transferable skills for work-readiness and lifelong success. Students are coached to become independent, lifelong learners, and are prepared for a varied portfolio career. For most new HEIs this is fully integrated into the curriculum rather than being an ‘add-on’ or offered separately to the degree.

7. Industry-focused curriculum: New HEIs strategically develop strong relationships with employers to ensure their courses are industry-relevant. Employers play a significant role in curriculum design, student projects, and assessment.

Challenges and Barriers:

Despite their innovative aspirations, new HEIs have in some cases faced challenges in fully realising their vision, due in part to the regulatory processes which still evaluate provision based on assumptions about traditional university models. They had to work within the realms of the regulator’s conditions in order to register as a HE institution, as well as working within the jurisdictions of a partnering university which had its own specifications for delivery. Some institutions have expressed that these constraints have limited their ability to fully embrace their vision of innovation.

Recruiting students for new HEIs was also identified as a key challenge, particularly for the first cohorts. Convincing students and parents of the value and potential of these new and sometimes unconventional models remains a hurdle.

Kat Emms, Education and Policy Senior Researcher at Edge Foundation states:

“While it is too early to judge the full impact and success of these new HEIs, they have set clear visions for development and have demonstrated a commitment to breaking away from traditional models of higher education with a variety of interesting pedagogies and approaches. Their contributions to higher education will be measured over the coming years as student numbers grow, and if their graduates achieve success in the workplace.”

Edge is dedicated to fostering innovation and promoting positive change in the education landscape, and this research report is a testament to the organisation’s commitment to advancing the future of education in the UK.

The full research report “New Higher Education Institutions in England: A Real Chance to Innovate?” is available for download here.

By Katherine Emms, Education and Policy Senior Researcher, Edge Foundation

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