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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Beyond the work placement: specialist HE’s culture of employability

Date 17/11/2017
Specialist universities and colleges are rooted in industry, from the creative arts to agriculture, and are a benchmark for innovative approaches to employability.

A new report from QAA brings together the findings and learning from the specialists - colleges, alternative providers and universities – that have been reviewed by QAA in recent years. 

The report finds:

  • ​every specialist provider reviewed by QAA has received positive review judgements
  • all but one of the specialists taking part in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) achieved a gold rating  
  • specialist providers account for more than three quarters of QAA alternative provider reviews (around 80 providers)
  • theology, design and business feature strongly in specialist alternative providers
  • 15 specialist land-based colleges in the English FE sector offer higher education qualifications for the food, agriculture and land management sectors.
Research carried out by specialist providers is grounded in industry requirements. Many specialists use employer connections (including former students) to ensure research is relevant to their existing business activities.
However, recruiting and retaining suitably qualified and experienced teaching staff can be a challenge to specialists. Staff often have multiple roles and take on strategic responsibilities earlier in their careers than might be expected in a larger institution.
Engagement in professional practice goes beyond placements and into the ethos of work and industry readiness. For example:

  • ​Plymouth College of Art’s quality enhancement strategy requires a termly programme performance review, giving students and staff a forum to improve teaching and learning and address emerging issues based on live data
  • Edge Hill Hotel School's hospitality qualification includes work experience within its own hotel
  • Moulton College operates a number of businesses that work in tandem with its teaching and learning, including an animal therapy centre and garden centre.
Paul Hazell, QAA’s Evaluation and Analytics Manager, says: 'Employability and engagement with the world of work is a feature of strength across UK higher education.
'But our report finds that specialists have developed approaches that are innovative and sometimes unique, providing useful learning for the sector.'​