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UCU comment on government's decision to privatise higher education

25 February 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

UCU said today (Friday) that the government was wrong to allow private education providers access to taxpayers' money to keep their fees down.

The union was commenting after David Willetts told a conference that it was allowing private companies to access public funds through loans and grants.

The news follows recent revelations that BPP University College, which is owned by the US for-profit education company Apollo, had a quarter of its value written off after poorer than expected performance. Apollo has made clear that it may hit the company with further charges if it is not able to quickly expand its higher education operations, raising the prospect that taxpayers may now be subsidising this growth.

UCU said the move went against David Willetts' previous commitments to safeguard UK higher education and was being done as America was debating introducing stricter regulation of private providers following a string of public scandals.

UCU has continually warned that private companies have no tradition of academic freedom, are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, and are not subjected to the same academic rigour or public scrutiny as UK universities.

The union says its concerns have been illustrated in real terms by the scandals in America. In June, the US Department for Education proposed 14 new rules aimed at tackling abuses in for-profit education and the US Congress is investigating for-profit colleges and universities.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "As America looks at how to better regulate the for-profit sector in the wake of a series of high-profile public scandals, our government is making public money available to the privateers to subsidise shareholders' profit and encouraging their growth. 

"David Willetts has spoken passionately about the need to safeguard the UK higher education system; however his actions today make a mockery of those previous promises."