All out for USS

77% rise in 'unregulated' private university courses

12 July 2012 | last updated: 11 December 2015

The government approved over 400 degree and diploma courses at private universities for taxpayer funding in 2011/12 without checking on the quality of courses offered by providers or student completion rates, it was revealed today.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, by Times Higher Education Magazine, shows that the number of private provider courses approved without quality checks increased by 77% from 228 in the 2010/11 academic year to 403 in 2011/12 academic year.

One company, London College UCK, was awarded 98 courses in just one day, while another provider, Cavendish College, was approved for 22 courses just weeks before being forced to close due to UK Border Agency regulations.

UCU said the figures made a mockery of the government's 'due diligence' checks for private education providers who, despite not being subject to the same quality assurance tests as public universities, will be able to increase the amount they can obtain per student from £3,000 to £6,000 from the autumn.

Last month the government promised that it would look to increase oversight of private providers after admitting they were not keeping tabs on course quality and completion rates.* However, the union said today that ministers were not acting fast enough to implement the necessary quality controls or explaining how they would do it.

Of the 79 companies designated for student loan support in 2011-12:

  • Nearly two-fifths (141) of courses approved were for providers owned by four US for-profit companies (Capella, Apollo, Navitas, Kaplan) and one UK private equity firm (Sovereign Capital)
  • 24% of courses were awarded to one institution, London College UCK
  • Cavendish College was awarded 22 courses between September and November 2011 before closing in December in 2011.

Figures from the Student Loans Company showed that these providers were able to access £55 million in loans and grants in 2010-11 - a figure that is expected to rise considerably from September when private providers will be able to double the amount they can receive in student loans.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This data shows how little oversight the government has given to courses run by private providers and makes a mockery of their so-called 'due diligence' checks. At a time when public universities are being starved of funds, ministers seem to be falling over themselves to sign off ever increasing amounts of taxpayers' money to more or less any company who applies for designated course status.

'It beggars belief that ministers have not been monitoring student completion rates and the quality of courses at these providers and that David Willetts still cannot tell us how he plans to bring them under proper quality control.  The government must act now to halt this unregulated process and introduce stringent regulation for private providers.'


* Responding to questions by shadow higher education minister, Shabana Mahmood, on whether the government monitored student completion rates at private higher education institutions, universities minister, David Willletts, said on 24 April 2012:

'The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the agencies reporting to the Department, do not hold the data requested on non-completion rates in private higher education institutions of students who are eligible to receive student loan funding.'

Responding to questions by shadow higher education minister, Shabana Mahmood, on whether the government monitored course quality at private higher education institutions, universities minister, David Willletts said on 26 April 2012:

'The due diligence checks undertaken on organisations applying for specific designation, consider the management, governance, and medium term financial sustainability of the organisation. These specific checks do not consider the quality of the education provided as this is covered by other processes.'