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UCU comment on HEPI report on alternative providers

5 January 2017 | last updated: 31 January 2017

Higher education legislation currently before Parliament could put students and the reputation of UK universities at risk, according to a report released today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

The report suggests that once the Higher Education and Research Bill becomes law, over two-thirds of alternative providers (553) will remain outside of the new regulatory system it will introduce. Just 207 alternative providers will be regulated.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Hepi's forecast should sound alarm bells in government. We cannot afford to ignore the lessons from the US where the for-profit higher education sector has unravelled, taking billions in taxpayers' money but failing the majority of its students.

'If we are to protect our students and the global reputation enjoyed by UK universities, the new legislation must protect taxpayers' money from being handed over to a potential pool of unscrupulous providers. We must have more rigorous quality measures applied before any new provider is allowed to access either degree awarding powers or state funding via the student loans system.'

The report highlights experiences in the US and Australia which show that overly generous rules for alternative providers are a magnet for questionable business practices, with the end results including stranded students, rising bills for taxpayers and a risk of the sector being contaminated. The report's co-author John Fielden brands the bill's new high-speed approval system for degree-awarding powers "a risk too far".

UCU has repeatedly highlighted the American experience 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.