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Report outlines a new future for franchise provision

  • 22 February 2024

The Higher Education Policy Institute and Buckinghamshire New University are today publishing a HEPI Debate Paper on the benefits and challenges of franchise provision in higher education, along with proposals that would lead to greater levels of assurance as to the quality and management of franchise provision within UK higher education.

What is wrong with franchise provision? has been written by Professor Nick Braisby (Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University), Ian Harper (Commercial and Business Development Director of Buckinghamshire New University) and Professor Damien Page (Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University).

The paper outlines data and evidence, from across the higher education sector as well as from Buckinghamshire New University, which shows the benefits of franchised provision as well as some of the challenges.

The authors ask what franchisors and franchisees might do differently to give greater assurance to stakeholders that the investment from the public purse provides value for students and society.

The key recommendations are that a new and robust sector-owned code of practice should be adopted by franchisors, and that the Office for Students should introduce a new section of its Register backed up by light-touch, low-cost and timely regulation. 

Professor Nick Braisby, co-author of the report and Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University, said:

‘We see many benefits of franchise provision, not least widening participation, enhancing choice and flexibility for students and helping to level the playing field for higher education providers of all types. However, to give greater assurances to stakeholders, we believe franchise provision needs to be managed for the long-term and through collaborative relationships among franchisors and franchisees.

‘We propose a new and robust sector-owned code of conduct combined with a limited extension of regulation – light-touch, rapid and low-cost, enabling all franchisees to be registered. These kinds of change would see franchise provision thought of differently – not as a threat to the UK’s enviable reputation for quality, but as a different type of delivery model that enables more students to choose and succeed in higher education.’

Ian Harper, co-author of the report and Commercial and Business Development Director at Buckinghamshire New University, said:

‘Franchise relationships require stability in order to improve quality outcomes and to protect the student experience. Regulation cannot do this alone and so in the paper we make the case for effective and close collaboration where members of consortia work together, effectively safeguarding the interests of students, funders, stakeholders and, ultimately, the sector itself.

‘The future health of the sector relies on these collaborative relationships and will enable new entrants to establish themselves and, importantly, the quality of their delivery.’

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

‘Franchised higher education can be good for students, as it is often provided locally and can be especially appealing to first-in-family students. For some people, the choice is franchised provision or no higher education. That is why there is such a long history of partnership arrangements in UK higher education.

‘It is in no one’s interests for franchised provision to fall below par. Any concerns about quality are best addressed via risk-based and proportionate regulation. This important new paper shows what a sensible and updated regulatory model could look like today.’

Notes for Editors

  1. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  2. Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) has been transforming lives for more than 130 years, from developing its students’ full potential to making a positive impact to the environment and in our communities locally, nationally, and globally. BNU supports a breadth of research across its campuses in High Wycombe, Uxbridge and Aylesbury across degree programmes including nursing and midwifery, healthcare and social work, business, aviation, the creative industries, hospitality and sport. Visit for more information.

1 comment

  1. Albert Wright says:

    A very thoughtful, comprehensive and timely contribution to the current debate on franchising which includes new ideas and proposals that deserve widespread sector consideration.

    The collaborative versus competitive argument asks us to think differently.

    The importance of context and the tension between wider access and quality standards and single progression targets for all Universities are brought into question.

    The reality of additional costs for franchisor and franchisee need further investigation. With the very different student cohort registered at the franchisee compared to the franchisor we need to think more deeply about trade offs

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