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Taking action in higher education

Ed Miliband warns of 'warped for-profit motive in education' as TUC expected to condemn for-profit education

13 September 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, today told the TUC Congress that he did not want education to be 'warped by the for-profit motive'.

Mr Miliband was speaking in a Q&A session at the central London conference before delegates are expected to back a motion* that will condemn the government's attempts to divert public funding for higher education into the emerging for-profit sector.

UCU said the government needed to urgently heed the warning from the US, where for-profit companies are being investigated by Congress following a series of high profile scandals over mis-selling degrees and suspect 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.

The recent higher education white paper will allow for-profit companies unprecedented access to a larger share of taxpayers' money, in the form of the government-backed student loans, recreating the conditions that allowed the rapid growth of for-profit higher education in the US.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We are pleased that Ed Miliband has followed Nick Clegg's lead from last week and come out strongly against a for-profit motive in education. The recent white paper, however, appears to give a worrying green light to the types of companies that have been caught up in embarrassing scandals in higher education in the US over their recruitment practices.

'For-profit education in America has become a public scandal, including a Senate investigation into companies such as Apollo, Kaplan and Education Management Corporation and new regulations aimed at curbing the worst abuses. Education Management Corporation, which is the second-biggest for-profit provider in the US, is also facing a multibillion-dollar fraud suit filed by the Department of Justice and four states. Yet, these are the very companies who stand to gain from the White Paper and they are looking with hungry eyes at the UK market.'

In the US for-profit colleges have the lowest rates of completion and the highest rates of defaulting on the loans. The Education Trust has calculated that only one in five students graduate from four-year degree courses at for-profit institutions, compared with 55% at public community colleges. Around 40% of students from for-profit colleges default after three years and the for-profits are responsible for around half of all defaults.

* Motion 57 Academies and privatisation - to be taken in the education debate on Tuesday morning:

Congress deplores the secrecy surrounding the government's free schools policy with its refusal to reveal expenditure on individual schools. Congress further deplores the waste of public money on free schools, which are being opened regardless of need, and the lack of public accountability for this money.

In addition, Congress notes the contrast between the government's language of autonomy for academies, including free schools, and the reality of schools moving from local authority influence to academy chain or federation control, with the top-slicing by chains of a substantial percentage of academies' budgets.

Congress condemns the government for its clandestine policy of school privatisation by supporting transfer to chains and urges it to come clean. The equivalent privatisation policy for the NHS proved highly unpopular with its staff and the public, and Congress calls for a similar public debate on the privatisation of education.

Association of Teachers and Lecturers


In paragraph 3, line 4, insert after 'clean.': 'Congress further condemns the government's attempts to divert public funding for higher education into the emerging for-profit sector. This untried experiment will force down quality, as happened in the USA, and do serious damage to the UK's proud international reputation for excellence.'

In paragraph 3, add at end after 'education': 'including the for-profit sector in higher education.'

University and College Union