Sylvia Manning from the US Higher Learning Commission was this morning's keynote speaker. She began with an historical overview of accreditation in the USA. Historically government has played a lesser role in Higher Education than in Europe. It was not until after WW2 when the federal government began to supply funding for war veterans that government interest in accreditation really began.
One of the important tends in US higher education has been the rise of 'for-profit' universities. In order to receive federal funds universities has to be accredited in all the states in which they operate (accreditation is regional in the USA). This was not a problem for the larger 'for-profits' e.g. University of Phoenix, but an unexpected consequence was that smaller colleges, especially those engaged in distance learning were left in limbo. Professor Manning gave the example of a student in the armed forces taking a distance learning course accreditation in the state where the army base is located. However, if the student is then relocated to another base in a state in which their college is not accredited they are no longer able to access federal student loans.
Professor Manning asked her audience to draw their own 'lessons' from the USA situation. The keenness of the current UK government for expanding accreditation in the private sector and the emergence of 'for-profits' present many challenges for quality assurance in the UK.