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UCU welcomes former minister's call for greater scrutiny of higher education providers

12 October 2016

UCU today backed calls from a former universities minister for greater scrutiny of new providers of higher education and what allowing more providers into the higher education sector could mean for our international reputation.

The union was responding to a new policy paper entitled Protecting the public interest in higher education by Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and former Labour minister for further and higher education.

Published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the paper notes that recent data on alternative providers covered just 63 of the 732 alternative providers identified in a report from the department for business, innovation and skills in spring 2014.

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 or robust data.

UCU said it welcomed a recommendation in the paper that there should be staff and student representation on higher education providers' governing bodies. The union also welcomed the observation that alternative providers mainly offer Business and Arts courses in London and the south east, rather than offering innovative forms of provision in higher education cold spots.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This paper raises important concerns about the government's rapid rush to embrace alternative higher education providers eagerly circling our university sector. It rightly calls on us to get a better understanding of how such changes would be perceived internationally.

'Ministers need to halt plans to water down requirements for new alternative providers and ensure that proper quality checks are carried out before they can award degrees. The government may want to open up the higher education market, but the evidence we have so far is that alternative providers are not offering anything new or innovative, or seeking to enter areas currently short of higher education institutions.

'We welcome the recommendation that there should be staff and student representatives on governing bodies - something we want to see for all higher education institutions in the interests of greater transparency of top table decisions.'