Government needs to row back on private college expansion

10 July 2015 | last updated: 4 August 2016

The government would put the UK's proud reputation for international excellence at serious risk if it pushed through plans to make it easier for private colleges to hand out degrees, UCU has warned.

The union was responding to a Treasury document on productivity, launched today in Birmingham by business secretary Sajid Javid, that also confirms student grants will be axed and tuition fees increased as set out by the chancellor in Wednesday's budget. UCU said the government appeared to have learned nothing from previous flirtations with so-called "alternative providers" of higher education that ended in private colleges receiving huge sums of taxpayers' money, high-profile scandals and government investigations.

UCU warned that the rapid expansion of private providers under the last government was a disaster and this government should be taking extra health checks, not seeking to allow more into the system. Private companies can access taxpayers' money through state-backed 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:

College

Greenwich School of ManagementLondon School of Business and FinanceSt Patrick's International College

ICON College of Technology

2011/12

£22m

£0

£0.37m

£0

2012/13

£44m

£7.57m

£41.5m

£8.7m


UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We have been here before with so-called alternative providers of higher education. A sensible government would be learning from the mistakes of the previous administration. However, it appears the government is keen to allow more private firms access to taxpayers' money through state-backed student loans.

'Our colleges and universities are a success story and central to improving productivity, but further privatisation could cause serious damage to our reputation and hinder what the government says it is trying to do. Unless proper quality checks are carried out we risk repeating the mistakes of the past and putting our proud international standing for excellence at risk.'

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