Victory as Willetts cans for-profit universities, but vigilance is still needed

Sally Hunt welcomes the news that the government is dropping plans to support for-profit universities, but cautions against celebrating too much too soon.


Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

Reports this morning that the government is shelving major reforms to its higher education bill are welcome news. UCU and others have campaigned against allowing private for-profit companies greater access to taxpayers’ cash through publicly-funded student loans.

The University and College Union has led the opposition to plans that we feared would allow private companies a greater hold on the UK higher education sector. The plans to recreate elements of the American system were vehemently opposed by the academic community and just last month 500 academics wrote to the Telegraph voicing their serious concerns.

This morning’s reports say that the plans have been shelved until at least 2015, which suggests the government has listened to the concerns of the academic community and for that it should be applauded.

The evidence from America is extremely worrying. For-profit companies offer derisory graduation rates, crushing levels of debts and degrees of dubious value. According to the US Education Trust, only 20 per cent of students at for-profit colleges complete a four-year course and the same proportion of those who do finish default on their loans within three years.

US private companies recruit just 10 per cent of students, but they consume 25 per cent of government-backed loans. We believe that allowing institutions driven by the pursuit of short-term shareholder value to get a foothold in higher education would risk condemning generations of students to a similar future, while the taxpayer would pick up the cost.

While legislation to allow private companies getting rich at the expense of the UK taxpayer appears to have been put to the backburner, we will remain vigilant and ensure that no similar measures are brought in through the back door and without proper scrutiny.

In the US for-profit universities and colleges have been investigated for the mis-selling of qualifications to vulnerable students and their families, which led to calls for far tighter regulation of the for-profit sector. The last thing we needed over here as students struggle to adapt to the new fees regime is even greater risks for the sector.

See also:

Cameron needs to start backing our young people and universitiesSally Hunt, January 18th 2012

Will 2012 see the first university bankruptcy?Alex Hern, January 8th 2012

Government funding of university research at lowest proportion since 1900sSally Hunt, January 5th 2012

For-profit universities have failed in the US, so why import them here?Sally Hunt, December 7th 2011

Willetts must learn from America’s mistakes over for-profit universitiesSally Hunt, May 6th 2011

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