Private Investment in UK Universities Opposed
The Coalition’s attempt to square the circle in HE policy terms has included the suggestion of involving private investment if not potential ownership, in the UK university sector. Needless to say, it has provoked a negative reaction from the great and the good.
In a letter to the ‘Daily Telegraph’ almost 500 senior university academics voiced their concerns and opposition to the possibility that any currently publicly funded university should end up in the private sector.
Following the furore in the US about how much Federal money has gone to the private for-profit sector and whether the tax payer has got value for money , it would appear battle lines are being drawn. Yet the maths means some things will have to change. We know that UK student application numbers will be affected by the almost 15% demographic decline over the next decade. Similarly, fee increases will have some negative effect on demand (see ‘University Applications Down’).
With Britain and the world facing a lengthy recession and reduction in Government spending, where is the money for HE to come from? If one includes factors such as a lack of social equality inclusion, mobility and access, then perhaps change needs to occur. The idea that the EU with its plans for Erasmus and graduate research funding will fill the gap, is as plausible as the Euro rescue plans.
The fact is that British universities already partner and involve private investment. Several use partners to provide private on-campus progression courses, particularly for foreign students. Others have launched privately registered off-shoots for involvement in new ‘sister’ campuses abroad. It would appear that ‘private’ and ‘for-profit’ are not opposed on idealological grounds.
The weaknesses often quoted in association with private provision include value statements such as quality, academic rigour and ownership. Yet if partnerships could produce lower costs and a more equal access to the benefits of university, shouldn’t we be asking our elite academics to produce suggestions and strategies? Otherwise universities risk their futures by merely reacting to suggestions made by politicians, and politicians under pressure.