There's a popular misconception that independent Higher Education is the preserve of well-heeled underachievers. But for a number of independent HE providers, this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, there's a wealth of evidence demonstrating that the independent sector is instead serving to widen access to HE.
The Government works hard and invests a great deal of taxpayers' money to ensure that Higher Education is an affordable and realistic opportunity for every student. What ministers may have overlooked, however, is that many independent colleges support this government objective as well.
Independent Higher Education colleges are often portrayed as charging exorbitant fees for a luxury service that is only within reach of students from privileged backgrounds. While I'm sure that examples of this type of HE provider exist, it is certainly not the norm. The reality is that most colleges in the independent sector, through lower fees, more contact hours and a commitment to widening access, service a much wider demographic than many traditional universities.
While the average cost of a year's tuition at a traditional university is £8,500, many independent colleges set fees at or below £6,000. This means that such colleges can provide students with quality undergraduate degrees while limiting the financial impact of achieving them. Given that that tuition fee hikes in 2012 have already caused a drop in demand for undergraduate degrees at traditional universities, it is fair to conclude that the market is somewhat price sensitive. By keeping the cost of a degree at an independent HE college at a level that is affordable, independent colleges offer students major savings.
However, for most students, it is not only finances that drive the decision to attend an independent college over a university. There is also an ever increasing student desire for vocationally-focussed courses that prepare them well for careers after graduating and independent colleges tend to specialise in such courses. Moreover, such colleges offer high contact hours, careers support and small classes.
At GSM London, like at many of the other independent colleges, the vast majority of students come from low-income families and have struggled to succeed academically at school; they aspire to make good and are pursuing higher education because they want to better themselves. Students generally live at home to keep costs down, but don't want to compromise on quality, so they look for a college where they will get the individual support they need to succeed in their undergraduate studies at a price they can afford.
GSM London provides its students with vocational, career-led degree programmes at a price they find affordable. It is relatively small by HE standards and so has the capacity to give extra encouragement to students to help them adjust to the higher education environment. This ensures value for money and enables them to graduate with a good degree; their first step to a successful career.