An alternative provider (AP) is defined as any provider of higher education courses which:
- does not directly receive annual funding from HEFCE or its equivalent bodies in the devolved administrations
- does not receive direct annual public funding
- is not a further education college.
As at 13 March 2017, there were 115 alternative providers with specific course designation for 2016-17. Current students at the providers can access support through the Student Loans Company, but some of these providers have courses designated for Disabled Students Allowance only. Seven APs have degree-awarding powers of some description. One of these has permanent degree-awarding powers.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA’s) Statistical First Release reported that there were 52,675 students on designated courses at APs in 2015-16. The distribution of students across providers is highly skewed as the majority of providers are small. Of the 96 APs with designated courses in the HESA record, 33 had fewer than 100 students and only 11 had more than 1,000 students.
Higher education provision at APs is mostly for full-time undergraduate programmes, with 87 per cent of students enrolled on designated courses in 2015-16 studying full time.
A majority of the undergraduate students at APs in 2015-16 were recorded as studying for first degrees. However, at 60 per cent this proportion is lower than that in the rest of the higher education sector. A further 30 per cent of students were studying for HNDs or HNCs.
More than three-quarters of students at alternative providers in 2015-16 were in three subject areas: business and management (48 per cent of students on designated courses), creative arts and design (20 per cent) and law (10 per cent).
Relative to the rest of the sector, students at APs are more likely to be older and of black, Asian or other minority ethnicity. Of full-time undergraduates at APs in 2015-16, almost three-quarters are mature (21 or over), and 39 per cent were aged 30 or over. In terms of ethnicity, 33 per cent of UK-domiciled full-time undergraduates at APs in 2015-16 were black, 16 per cent were Asian and 7 per cent were another minority ethnicity.