All out for USS

Watchdog to investigate for-profit colleges' access to millions of pounds of public money

22 May 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Spending watchdog to investigate potential misuse of public funds • Government repeatedly ignored warnings about standards in for-profit colleges

UCU today welcomed the news that National Audit Office is to investigate the potential misuse of public funds in the private higher education sector.

The news follows allegations that standards in for-profit colleges are not good enough and that the colleges and students have far too easy access to taxpayers' money.

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. The amount of public money going to private colleges in 2010/11 was £42m. It is predicted to hit almost £1bn next year.

The investigation has been prompted by the Public Accounts Committee who spoke of the 'alarming growth' of students entering the for-profit college sector. Committee chair Margaret Hodge said when looking at the figures a red light 'ought to go on immediately.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We raised the issues of for-profit colleges' access to public money and our concerns about standards time and again with ministers. We were ignored at every turn by a government that seemed so blinded by the ideology of competition that it refused to heed our warnings and the dire examples from America.

'We are delighted the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office are now looking into the matter. We have heard nothing from ministers or the colleges to explain why this situation was allowed to happen. We trust they will not be able to shy away from a Parliamentary watchdog.'

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.