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UCU supports TUC's campaign to stop private firms cashing in on public education

14 March 2014

Supporting a new report that shows private firms have earned nearly £80m from the creation of free schools and academies, UCU has highlighted how private companies have been given access to ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers' money in post-16 education.

The TUC's Education Not for Sale campaign launched today shows how since 2010, ministers have signed off £76.7m of public funds to 14 private firms providing additional services to free schools and academies. Those firms include lawyers, head-hunters, accountants, estate agents, and management consultants.

UCU points out that in post-16 education, the amount of state funding that went to alternative providers of education shot up nearly three times from £100m in 2011/12 to £270m in 2012/13.  That funding came through publicly-backed student support, which is being paid by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).  In 2011, the government increased the amount of public money private providers could receive in the form of student loans from £3,000 to £6,000. At the same time, it dramatically increased the number of courses designated fit for public support - one college got 98 courses approved by officials in just a single day.

'Established colleges and universities have faced austerity cuts but taxpayers' money is pouring into the pockets of private companies that are setting up new institutions.'
Sally Hunt, UCU

UCU has continually highlighted that these alternative providers do not have to observe student number controls, do not have the same level of quality checking as public universities, and do not have to provide information that would make them accountable for the public money they receive.

In 2013, such was the rush for private providers to recruit, BIS has had to stop 23 alternative providers from recruiting any more students and receiving public funds, as the department was already £80 million over budget.

UCU has called on government to introduce a new requirement that public support must only go to educational and training organisations that are not-for-profit, and to put in place a tougher regulatory framework for those organisations which are owned by for-profit companies.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'There are schoolchildren learning in classrooms in need of refurbishment and playing in playgrounds lacking adequate equipment, yet the free market dogma of this government has allowed private consultants to cash in on nearly £80m via the creation of free schools and academies.

'The situation is mirrored in post-16 education, where our established colleges and universities have faced austerity cuts but taxpayers' money is pouring into the pockets of private companies that are setting up new institutions. The government has created an uncapped, unregulated shadow higher education sector, profiting from public money without having to undergo even the most basic quality checks or provide any information about their performance.

'Our schools, colleges and universities are being told to manage with less money while private companies make a fast buck out of our public education system.'

Last updated: 10 December 2015