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Time has come for proper scrutiny of 'cashpoint colleges'

22 May 2014

Government repeatedly ignored warnings about standards in for-profit colleges • Public money going to private colleges rocketed from £42m to £340m in just two years and is predicted to continuing rising

UCU demanded today that the government scrutinise for-profit colleges that receive millions pounds of taxpayers' money, amid serious concerns over the quality of the education they provide.

UCU said the government had ignored repeated warnings from the union as far back as June 2010 about the lack of proper quality checks at private institutions.

UCU met with, and wrote to, universities minister David Willetts on numerous occasions to urge him to stop allowing for-profit colleges to receive public money through student loans and to bring in much stricter quality controls. The union said it was ignored at every turn. The details of UCU's letters to, and meetings with, ministers can be found here.

The union said a Guardian expose of the London School of Science and Technology (LSST), based above a tile depot in Wembley, north London, highlighted the damage for-profit colleges could do to the reputation of English higher education.

For-profit colleges, such as LSST, have enjoyed record growth in recent years.  The total amount of public money for students in for-profit colleges has rocketed from £42m in 2010/11 to £340m in 2012/13.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We met with David Willetts time and again to specifically warn him about the dangers of handing out more state-backed loans to private colleges to cover their students' fees. There were no quality control checks in place and no limits on the number of students they could recruit.

'The minister must explain why he ignored our warnings. We fear the government's enthusiasm to create a market in higher education may have blinded them to the risks.

'A quick study of what had happened in America would have delivered a worrying tale of institutions raking in state money. US private colleges recruit just 10 per cent of students, but they consume 25 per cent of government-backed loans. To allow institutions driven by the pursuit of short-term shareholder value to get a foothold in higher education risks condemning generations of students in this country to a similar future, while the taxpayer picks up the cost.'

As part UCU's campaign against for-profit colleges in the UK, the union showed this film warning of the damage for-profit colleges had caused in America at a special screening for MPs in Parliament in November 2011.

Last updated: 10 December 2015