Pearson College: A revolution in actual, no-messing higher education

Chalk Talk

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The Independent Online

Arriving at Pearson College in London's Strand, it looks nothing like a seat of learning. It is housed in a resplendent office block, as befits the first degree-awarding body to be run by a FTSE-100 company. And it is part of a revolution in higher education that is likely to mushroom in the coming decade.

It has 110 students – 80 of whom arrived this September – studying for a business and enterprise honours degree course validated by the Royal Holloway, part of the University of London.

During the next decade, it has plans to expand to the size of a small-to-medium university offering a range of study options to about 10,000 students. It hopes to get its own degree-awarding powers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the future.

It won't, though, mean Pearson College becoming the largest private provider of degree courses, according to its principal Roxanne Stockwell, an Australian whose previous incarnations include working for a theatre company in New South Wales. (Her immediate past, though, was spent with BPP, one of Pearson College's biggest rivals in the private higher education sector).

The expansion has, in fact, already begun with Escape Studios. "We bought it," says Ms Stockwell simply.

Operating from Shepherd's Bush, it has 300 students planning to major in the creative industries in areas such as animation and visual effects.

Pearson's fees are lower than many universities that now charge the maximum £9,000 a year. The cost of a place on its business and enterprise programme is £7,250 a year, although a new course in global industry does cost the full £9,000. Students can opt to complete their studies in two, three or (if part-time) four years.

Part of the college's attraction is summed up by Sam Applebee, aged 20, who is in the second half of his two-year degree course: "I didn't want to go back into a student campus environment," he says. "I wanted to learn alongside people who were thinking about the world of work in an everyday FTSE-100 company.

"There is a mix of content here, which is very much geared at what employers are looking for."

A sign of the times in today's 21st century university world?