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Urgent call for regulation of for-profit higher education companies

15 December 2014

Call for tougher legislation comes as BIS and the Student Loans Company are called to explain problems behind explosion of for-profit courses and distribution of public money

There must be proper regulation of the for-profit higher education sector, said UCU today. The union was speaking as representatives from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) give evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC called the meeting following recent scandals about alternative education providers' access to taxpayers' money, allegations of poor attendance and graduation rates, students not being properly registered on courses and a lack of quality checks at private institutions.

On Thursday, BIS was trying to find any examples of good practice in the private sector ahead of today's committee. The number of students at private institutions rocketed from 4,700 in 2010/11 to 45,000 in 2013/14. The amount of public money they have been able to access through student loans has dramatically increased in that time from £42m to £571m.

In 2011/12, 403 new courses at private providers were approved, against just 157 in 2009/10. Freedom of Information requests revealed that 100 courses were approved on a single day and that often courses were signed off within four days of application.

In 2012 universities minister David Willetts said that BIS did not hold information on the numbers of students enrolled on private providers' courses or their completion rates. The failings of the department to keep proper records of colleges whose courses they were approving were exposed earlier this year. UCU repeatedly warned about problems with private for-profit institutions.

The union said the time had come for legislation to create one single, powerful regulator, able to deal with for-profit providers. The union added the regulator had to recognise the extra risk posed by for-profit providers, as is now finally recognised in the US higher education system, which has been beset by scandals involving for-profit providers.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We are delighted the Public Accounts Committee is trying to get to the bottom of the problems of for-profit education providers and their ease of access to millions of pounds of public money.

'If we are going to have these for-profit companies in our higher education system they must be properly regulated. We need a powerful regulator that is able to deal with for-profit providers and recognises the extra risk they pose. In the meantime, immediate number controls should be applied and a tailored inspection regime for for-profit providers introduced.'


Watch the hearing in full here:

(The hearing starts at 15:33:20. Click here for an alternative video player.)

Or read the highlights below:

Last updated: 29 July 2016