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White paper small print will pave the way for university privatisation, report warns

7 September 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

A new report today warned that small print in the government's higher education white paper could pave the way for existing universities to be privatised.

The report, by leading research publication Research Fortnight, details how government reforms will allow the assets of higher education charities to be given to for-profit companies and for the first time make privatisation of established universities practicable.

UCU said the report should act as an urgent wake-up call to ministers and urged the government to abandon proposals in its white paper that will make it easier for for-profit companies to expand.

The union pointed to the example of the US where for-profit companies are being investigated by Congress following a series of high profile scandals over mis-selling degrees and their recruitment practices.

In June, a UCU survey of 500 professors revealed that over four-fifths (85%) thought for-profit providers would offer lower quality courses than public universities, if they are given the green light to expand in the white paper.

Commenting on the report, Research Fortnight's founder, William Cullerne Bown, said: 'Things like Anthony Grayling's New College of the Humanities are a sideshow. The quickest way for big companies rapidly build market share in the UK is by buying established universities. If that happens, a lot of the things we take for granted about universities are going to stop being true.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This report is very timely and worrying. The government needs to urgently rethink reforms that will do untold damage to the reputation of our higher education system. What will it take for ministers to learn the lessons from the US, where the expansion of private providers and for-profit education has led to students and taxpayers being ripped off?'