Are some UK uni­ver­si­ties rest­ing on their lau­rels in terms of widen­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion?

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.morgan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The UK’s De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion has given the green light for two for­profit uni­ver­si­ties sold to Global Univer­sity Sys­tems, owned in the Nether­lands, to re­tain their univer­sity ti­tles and de­gree-award­ing pow­ers, but crit­ics say that such re­views must be open to scru­tiny.

The DfE never of­fi­cially an­nounced its de­ci­sions on the Univer­sity of Law and Ar­den Univer­sity af­ter their sales to GUS, whose um­brella group also in­cludes St Pa­trick’s Col­lege and the Lon­don School of Busi­ness and Fi­nance.

It is un­der­stood that the DfE is yet to con­clude its re­views of BPP Univer­sity’s con­tin­ued el­i­gi­bil­ity for univer­sity ti­tle and de­gree-award­ing pow­ers, af­ter its US owner was sold to a pri­vate eq­uity con­sor­tium for $1.1 bil­lion (£856 mil­lion).

The ad­vice given to the DfE by the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Funding Coun­cil for Eng­land as part of these re­views re­mains se­cret. Pa­pers on re­view of univer­sity ti­tle af­ter the sale of an in­sti­tu­tion are marked as “ex­empt from pub­li­ca­tion” in He­fce’s board agen­das.

Sales of uni­ver­si­ties are likely to be­come more com­mon­place as the gov­ern­ment pur­sues plans, es­tab­lished by the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search Act, to cre­ate more com­pe­ti­tion for es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions by eas­ing en­try to the English sec­tor for new providers.

As Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion has revealed, all three of the UK’s for­profit uni­ver­si­ties – Ar­den, the Univer­sity of Law, and BPP – are ul­ti­mately owned in the Nether­lands, known for hav­ing an at­trac­tive regime for cor­po­ra­tions.

Sally Hunt, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Univer­sity and Col­lege Union, said that “pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties gain sig­nif­i­cant in­come from UK stu­dents and tax­pay­ers”.

“Im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing rec­om­men­da­tions from the reg­u­la­tor, should be open to scru­tiny, and the re­sults of re­views should be pub­lished,” she said.

Carl Lygo, for­merly BPP’s vicechan­cel­lor, ex­ited a month af­ter Apollo’s sale to two US pri­vate eq­uity firms was an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary. He had been at the in­sti­tu­tion for 20 years and had led it to be­come, first, a univer­sity col­lege and then a univer­sity.

Peter Crisp, dean and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of BPP’s law school, was to step down from the in­sti­tu­tion at the end of June, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

Guid­ance is­sued in 2015 by the De­part­ment for Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Skills out­lines the process fol­lowed when a provider hold­ing de­gree-award­ing pow­ers changes hands.

“The De­part­ment needs to be as­sured that the orig­i­nal ‘in­sti­tu­tion’ awarded DAPs [de­gree-award­ing pow­ers] is the same in­sti­tu­tion post the change,” it says. “For this pur­pose the ‘in­sti­tu­tion’ is the co­he­sive and self-crit­i­cal aca­demic com­mu­nity that was as­sessed by the QAA [Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency] for DAPs and, in so do­ing, demon­strated firm guardian­ship of its stan­dards.”

Sep­a­rate 2015 BIS guid­ance states that when a provider with univer­sity ti­tle un­der­goes a change of own­er­ship, within three months of the sale it must “pro­vide in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence that, fol­low­ing the change, you con­tinue to sat­isfy all the cri­te­ria for stu­dent num­bers (for univer­sity ti­tle) and good gov­er­nance”. The sec­re­tary of state, “on re­ceipt of He­fce’s ad­vice”, then takes a de­ci­sion on whether the in­sti­tu­tion re­mains el­i­gi­ble for univer­sity ti­tle.

A Univer­sity of Law spokes­woman said that the in­sti­tu­tion had its univer­sity ti­tle con­firmed by the DfE in Jan­uary 2016, and de­greeaward­ing pow­ers in De­cem­ber 2015, af­ter a sale an­nounced in June 2015.

A GUS spokesman said that the DfE’s re­view of Ar­den (sold in Au­gust 2016) “was con­cluded in April 2017. The DfE de­ci­sion was that Ar­den Univer­sity re­mained the same in­sti­tu­tion that was as­sessed for DAP in 2014 and con­tin­ued to meet the cri­te­ria for univer­sity ti­tle.”

Not for shar­ing pa­pers on re­view of univer­sity ti­tle af­ter an in­sti­tu­tion’s sale are marked ‘ex­empt from pub­li­ca­tion’

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