Fears over 'risky' private enterprise at University of Gloucestershire
The University of Gloucestershire's decision to embark on a partnership with the private company INTO has been labelled unnecessary and too risky today.
The institution has given the green light, in principle, for the private firm to recruit and teach foreign students on English language courses, and to run other courses for international students up to degree level. However UCU says now is not the time for the university to risk pumping money into the project and has highlighted concerns raised by staff at other institutions INTO has tried to gain access to.
The project would see the university invest considerable sums with no profit expected for five years. The union rejected claims from the university that the partnership was vital to the institution's survival and questioned how risking as much as £10m at a time when it will turn an operating profit of £3m could help the short and long-term stability of its finances.
'We need to get away from the fallacy that for-profit firms can do a better job of running our education services than the experts'
Eight members of staff are threatened with being transferred to INTO employment. There is concern that in time, growing numbers of staff could be moved across to INTO, on inferior contracts, creating a two-tier workforce.
In a recent poll of staff at the University of Gloucestershire, 97% of staff who voted opposed the INTO partnership. INTO has now been rejected by staff at every UK university where they have been polled on whether or not their institution should get involved with the company.
This time last year De Montfort University (DMU) decided not to allow INTO to run an international recruitment centre on campus.
In an email to staff, DMU vice-chancellor, Dominic Shellard, said the university was abandoning the plans because the potential risks outweighed any potential rewards. That news followed a poll at the university where an overwhelming majority of staff (90%) said a partnership with INTO would damage De Montfort University's reputation.
UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Staff at the University of Gloucestershire do not believe that a private company, which is motivated by profit, is an appropriate organisation to run local education.
'UCU is campaigning hard against the privatisation of higher education. The university is now in sound financial health and we are not prepared to watch it risk its reputation and future financial health by signing capital and revenue over to what is in effect a private sector property developer.
'At every institution where staff have been asked they have rejected INTO. We need to get away from the fallacy that for-profit firms can do a better job of running our education services than the experts. A quick glance across to the US highlights the dangers of handing over public money to these types of companies.'
UCU has been leading a campaign to highlight the dangers of granting private for-profit companies greater access to taxpayers' money and allowing them to get involved with UK higher education. The union says that America provides a worrying snapshot of what could happen in the UK if the government relaxes rules regulating for-profit education providers.
While US private companies recruit just 10% of students they consume 25% of all government-backed loans. Furthermore, only one in five students graduate from four-year degree courses at for-profit institutions, compared with 55% at public community colleges.