Corporate, For-Profit, International, Investors, Legislation, Required, University & College - Written by Paul Glader on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 15:00 - 0 Comments
UK’s University Minister David Willetts Wants More For-Profit, Online Colleges in England
It looks like interest is building in England – the land of free markets guru Adam Smith – to add more for-profit institutions to the mix as it aims to reform its university system. The UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, is actively meeting with for-profit colleges, with at least a dozen such meetings recently – including in the U.S. – according to a recent report by Hannah Richardson of the BBC. Her report suggests it was a questionable move for him to do as some of the schools are accused for recruitment or public loan fraud.
Mr Willetts has been up-front about his plans to open up England’s higher education system to private providers to help increase the number and type of university places available and boost competition.
But his plans have drawn criticism from academics and opposition politicians who fear that it could lead to a fall in the quality of education available, with more learning being carried out online and in non-traditional ways.
Some members of parliament are criticizing Willett for such meetings. MP Barry Gardiner called it “extraordinary and appalling.”
In July 2010 Mr Willetts met one firm, the Education Management Corporation (EDMC), which is currently being sued for $11bn by the Department of Justice in the US over its alleged student recruitment practices. The firm is accused of wrongly using federal education funds to pay bonuses to its student recruiters, a claim it vehemently denies.
Another firm Mr Willetts met, Apollo, has paid out millions of dollars over claims it improperly recruited students to the University of Phoenix. Although Apollo admitted no liability in a whistleblower case in 2009, it settled saying it wanted to bring “closure to a long-running dispute” and avoid “uncertainty and further expense associated with protracted litigation”. Apollo is the parent company of BPP University College of Professional Studies, which gained university college status last year. It was the first private sector institution to gain this status for more than 30 years. Mr Willetts met representatives of Apollo and BPP in May 2011. He also met BPP as part of wider meetings with higher education providers in December 2010 and January 2011. A spokesman for BPP said of the meetings: “There was an exchange of views which centred on BPP University College’s plans to grow its career-focused degree programmes.”
The story notes that Mr. Willett also consulted British publishing company Pearson Plc repeatedly before he produced his White Paper on higher education in England, which aimed to make it easier for companies to get into the sector. The country plans to add 20,000 university spots to degree course providers – mostly online colleges – that charge less than GBP 7,500 per year. By contrast, many colleges charge GBP 9,000 per year. Pearson wants to award degrees in England.
After a meeting with Mr Willetts in December 2010, the firm announced that it was planning to start by offering four vocational degrees with a further education college at “very competitive” prices. These will be piloted from September 2012, when the new fees system beings. It also said in June that it would be offering degrees in conjunction with Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, which would be the validating partner. But it is still pursuing its aim of gaining degree-awarding powers itself, potentially working as a validating partner for England’s further education colleges. A Pearson spokesman said: “Pearson provides and develops qualifications including BTecs, A-Levels and GCSEs as well as publishing support materials and offering technology products for schools, colleges and universities.
Mr Willetts also met a firm called Laureate, which has 55 higher education institutions in 27 countries. In England it runs online masters and doctoral degree courses accredited by the University of Liverpool.
The kicker included a few rather entertaining quips by MPs who criticized Willetts for following headfirst into a trend that has brought mixed blessings in the USA.
But Mr Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, said: “It is not a pretty sight and it is not what the British people recognise. They want to Americanise the system.”
General secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union Sally Hunt said: “Events in America have shown the for-profit model is fraught with danger for students and taxpayers alike.
Here are other links about what he is up to:
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