Project 3.1

Alternative, emerging and cross-border higher education provision and its relationship with mainstream provision

Project methods

The research is largely empirical in nature, organised in two phases.

The first is devoted to producing a comprehensive cross-sectional statistical picture of UK higher education in all its settings and modes. In addition to tracing its local-global dimensions, the combined dataset will be analysed to create course and student profiles of individual institutions.

The second, using case studies of the organisational configuration of UK-based institutions, will describe the positional and relational dynamics of higher education.

Using a mixed-methods approach, the project will access existing and new administrative datasets on the private, college and offshore parts of UK higher education. Compared to the mainstream sector of higher education, the coverage of alternative provision in the HESA aggregate offshore record is:

  • recent (from 2007/08) and problematic in some of its categories (Mellors-Bourne 2014);
  • more recent again in the HESA alternative provider student record (from 2014/15) and restricted to students on courses designated for student support purposes;
  • complex in the case of further education colleges in England where directly funded prescribed higher education is reported in the individualised learner record of the SFA (and predecessor bodies), indirectly funded higher education courses are identified in the HESA record, and non-prescribed higher education is reported in both records (Parry et al 2012, Saraswat et al 2014).

We will undertake a survey of private providers in the UK to update and extend previous surveys undertaken in 2012 (Hughes et al 2013) and 2014. As appropriate, the case studies will be selected to complement those featured in Project 3.4 The transformative potential of MOOCs and contrasting online pedagogies.

Within each case study, we will undertake documentary and interview studies to trace the history and pattern of global-local engagements and the directions and meanings of change, including their intersections, overlaps and tensions.