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MPs criticise government for disregarding UCU's repeated warnings on dangers of higher education privatisation

24 February 2015 | last updated: 11 March 2019

The government failed to heed explicit warnings about the dangers of vast sums of public money being given to for-profit higher education colleges, says a report from an influential group of MPs released today.

The Public Accounts Committee report says the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) repeatedly ignored warnings from UCU and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Members of the Public Accounts Committee were as shocked as we were over the government's refusal to heed our warnings about private providers' access to taxpayers' money. The government still has serious questions to answer about why it ignored these repeated warnings and why it allowed such rapid expansion to go unchecked.

'Politicians of all stripes need to study today's report about the sector's failings when it comes to dealing with privatisation.'

The report comes after BIS officials were quizzed by the PAC before Christmas about the rapid expansion of students attending private higher education colleges and the amounts of taxpayers' money being given to students through student loans.

Between 2010/11 and 2013/14, the number of students claiming support for courses at alternative providers rose from 7,000 to 53,000. Over the same period, the total amount of taxpayers' money paid to students, through tuition fee loans and maintenance loans and grants, rose from around £50m to around £675m.

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. Much of the expansion and the public money colleges acquired through student loans was in just a handful of colleges.