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UCU response to new data on alternative providers of higher education

15 June 2016

UCU said today that the government needed to collect better data from more alternative providers of higher education, before allowing more access to public money and the UK higher education sector.

The union was commenting as the Higher Education Statistics Agency released data on alternative providers for the first time. The data for 2014/15 covered just 63 alternative providers, less than 10 per cent of the 732 alternative providers identified in a report from the department for business, innovation and skills in spring 2014.

Alternative providers do not receive recurrent funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England or other public bodies, and are not further education colleges. However, eligible students can access public money through loans and grants from the Student Loans Company.

In its recent white paper the government set out proposals to make it quicker and easier to allow alternative providers access to public money through loans and grants. UCU has been one of the leading critics of expanding the number of alternative providers in the higher education sector. The union has raised concerns about the sums of public money going to these institutions without proper quality checks and without proper data.

The union has repeatedly warned about problems in America where for-profit companies, through unchecked alternative providers, were able to accrue billions of pounds of public money. 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.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'While it is encouraging that there is finally an effort being made to collect data on these alternative providers, fewer than one in ten are submitting any data. Ministers need to halt plans for further expansion of alternative providers until proper quality checks can be carried out, and they commit to providing the same levels of information as public universities also in receipt of taxpayers' money.