Provider’s name: Northern College of Acupuncture
Provider’s UKPRN: 10004740
Legal address: 61 Micklegate, York, YO1 6LJ
Contact point for enquiries about this student protection plan: Richard Blackwell, Principal

 

Student protection plan for the period 2019-20

 

1. An assessment of the range of risks to the continuation of study for our students, how those risks may differ based on our students’ needs, characteristics and circumstances, and the likelihood that those risks will crystallise

The risk that the College as a whole becomes unable to operate is low but there are some significant issues that we monitor carefully:

    1. We are reliant on tuition fee income from a small number of courses, with the BSc in Acupuncture contributing 65% of our income. However, demand for our courses is currently buoyant. The BSc in Acupuncture has recruited an average of 31 students a year over the last five years, with an intake of 35 in 2017. Our analysis is that this pattern will continue into the future – our financial projections assume an intake of 31 in 2018, 2019 and 2020. This is accompanied by growth in numbers for our MSc in Nutrition Science and Practice in the last two years and growth in recruitment to our relatively new online MScs. However, should recruitment to courses fall substantially we may have to decide to close courses or the College.
    2. Although we are in the process of detailed scrutiny for our own degree awarding powers, currently we are reliant on external validation by a University partner. Changes to University policy or provision can lead to the ending of partnerships. In this situation, should we be unable to form a new partnership in time to have our courses validated with continuity we may have to decide to close courses or the College.
    3. Although the regulatory landscape is now settling into its new form, we are a small educational charity with a significant proportion of our students in receipt of loans. Political changes such as a change of government have the potential to impact on us adversely. Concerns include changes to the requirements for charitable status, and changes in the availability of student loans. The financial impact of such changes could lead us to decide to close courses or the College.

The risk that we would have to close the College is low, but should this occur the risk to continuation of study for nearly all of our students is low, due to the financial reserves we have in place for this eventuality.

The risk that we would decide to close a course to new entrants is moderate, but our financial reserves would allow us to teach out the course for students who have already begun their studies, so for nearly all our students the risk that students would be unable to continue study is low.

Our student population comprises mostly mature students who often have family commitments and sometimes have health problems. At any time there can be a small number of students who are impacted by serious personal circumstances that would normally lead to suspension of studies or a move from full time to part time study. For these students, in a case of closure of a course or of the College, the risk that they would not be able to continue their studies is higher. These circumstances are addressed in our Policy on Refunds and Compensation.

We operate from a single location in premises which accommodate our classroom teaching and our teaching clinics. We have a well-established relationship (since 2000) with our landlord, the York Conservation Trust, themselves a charity, who consistently set a fair rent. The Trust’s charitable purpose is to care for historic buildings in York by maintaining ownership of them, so the relationship is a stable one for the medium to long term. We have no other leases or similar liabilities. We rate the risk associated with loss of our premises as very small. There is, as with any premises, a risk of losing the use of our premises due to a cause such as fire. We are vigilant in maintaining our policies and procedures for Health and Safety, including fire prevention and control. We have a business continuity plan in place to cope with a situation where our premises became unusable for a period of time and we are confident we would be able to survive such an event. We rate the risk to students’ continuation of study as low.

We rate as very low the risk that we could become unable to offer a course or modules within a course due to unavailability of specialised staff. There are good numbers of practitioners in our subject areas in our geographical region and a good proportion are interested in teaching. This includes our own alumni - we have been teaching all of our subject areas for a minimum of ten years and so have a substantial pool of alumni to draw on as needed. Our flexible staffing model is also helpful.

 

2. The measures that we have put in place to mitigate those risks that we consider to be reasonably likely to crystallise

Change of location of a course or courses

The most likely scenario in which we might need to change the location of a course or courses is when our premises become unusable for a period of time, for example after a fire. Should we need to change the location of a course or courses, we will compensate students for any additional costs they incur, as specified in our Refunds and Compensation Policy.

Closure of the College

Since some of the issues that could lead to a decision to close the College are outside our direct control, we do plan for a scenario where the College is forced to close. Each year we prepare and present to the Board of Directors/Trustees a "wind down" budget, which is our three year plan for a scenario in which we have to close to new students and require enough funds to see our existing students through their remaining years of study. The aim of this planning is to be sure that we could teach out all of our courses without making any significant changes to the courses. The "wind-down budget" varies a little from year to year depending on student numbers and number of courses. The wind down budget for 2017-18 showed we would need a predicted reserve of £210,000 - £230,000 in August/September at the time of a Board decision to wind-down. Based on this, the Board agreed a sum of £230,000 as our minimum reserve. We produce a new wind-down budget every year and Board adjusts the reserve figure accordingly. Our reserves at the end of the 2016-17 financial year stood at £324,580 in unrestricted funds, with a further £18,705 in restricted funds.

Any students for whom we are unable to provide continuation of study in case of closure of the College are covered by our Refunds and Compensation Policy.

Closure of a course

We also consider scenarios where closure of a course is necessary. We plan to teach out the course without significant changes. Our substantial reserves give us scope for flexibility in supporting a teach out while continuing to run our other courses, and we have additional flexibility because our staffing model is built around a teaching staff team who, while highly committed, are part-time and on self-employed contracts, and nearly all also working in clinical practice. This makes it easier to adjust our provision as circumstances change. We are confident that we could support teach out of any of our courses while keeping the College open, with one exception – a decision to close the BSc in Acupuncture would be likely to lead to a decision to close the College. In this situation, the wind down plan described above would come into operation to support the teach out of all our courses, supported by our reserves.

Any students for whom we are unable to provide continuation of study in case of closure of a course are covered by our Refunds and Compensation Policy.

 

3. Information about the policy we have in place to refund tuition fees and other relevant costs to our students and to provide compensation where necessary in the event that we are no longer able to preserve continuation of study

Our Refunds and Compensation Policy can be viewed by following this link.

We have substantial cash reserves, which are sufficient to cover the cost of teaching out our courses in the event of closure of a course or of the College. To support our new commitments on refunds and compensation, we will need to increase our minimum reserve. Our actual reserves currently exceed the minimum, but for the future we will need to review the minimum reserve to which we are committed. We will review this as part of our budgeting process and calculate a new minimum reserve which is sufficient for both our wind down costs and funds to cover refunds and compensation for students for whom we are unable to provide continuation of study. We will propose this new minimum reserve for approval by the Board of Directors/Trustees at their Annual General Meeting in November 2018.

 

4. Information about how we will communicate with students about our student protection plan

Following approval of our student protection plan and minimum reserve for 2019-20 by our Board of Directors/Trustees, we will publish our student protection plan on our VLE with a news announcement to all students and staff. We will also publish our student protection plan on our website so it is available to prospective future students.

We will work with our current students on further development of our student protection plan by consulting with the student representatives for each cohort and the student voice on the Board of Directors/Trustees.

If we need to make material changes to one of our courses, we will follow the procedures agreed with our partner Universities which govern major and minor changes to courses and modules, and making changes to published course related information. Major changes to courses require a revalidation process in which students would be involved. Where major changes to a course would affect students who are currently enrolled on the course, normally no more than 25% of the students who are enrolled and could potentially be affected by the change should explicitly withhold consent for the changes. Major changes to modules require consultation with student cohorts via their representatives. For any major change to a module which will impact on students currently undertaking the module, the proposed change must be consulted on and agreed by every student that will be affected. In the event of us being granted our own degree awarding powers, we will operate our own procedures in relation to major and minor changes to courses. These are included in the Academic Quality Handbook which we have produced, which is based, with their permission, on the Middlesex University equivalent. This will be reviewed for approval by our Academic Board on 3rd May.

If we need to implement any of the measures in our student protection plan relating to change of location of a course, closure of a course, or closure of the College, we will inform students within one week of a decision being made. We will remind students of our student protection plan and our policy on refunds and compensation, and inform them of the implications of these for the current circumstances. We will provide contact details of College staff who students can contact for support and information, and we will communicate with affected student groups face to face and/or via video conferencing.