Lords veto private universities expansion bill

The House of Lords has shot down government reforms to the Higher Education and Research Bill which would have allowed an extensive expansion of private institutions into the UK universities sector.

Around 300 000 students currently attend over 700 non-public education providers, which include for-profit institutions. The Higher Education Policy Institute has cautioned that planned expansions of ‘free-market’ universities are “a risk too far”, with peers also warning that planned changes would allow private colleges and universities to profit from the awarding of degrees.

Universities minister Jo Johnson had argued that allowing the private sector into university choices would drive up standards due to focusing predominantly on teaching. He argued that an increase in competition will benefit students, such as those at York, as public bodies will have to vie for students against private bodies, forcing them to shift focus from research to teaching thus providing better value for money for students.

Any new York students are facing a tuition fee increase to £9250 from September 2017, which will continue to rise with inflation in future years. The UK currently has five fully private universities: the University of Buckingham, BPP University, Regent’s University London, the University of Law, and Arden University.

University of Oxford Chancellor Lord Patten has dubbed the changes ‘hamfisted’ during an a period of significant uncertainty for universities as a consequence of Brexit and incoming changes to immigration, which could endanger both university funding and the number of EU nationals studying in the UK.

Patten also accused ministers of lacking respect and understanding of the university system. Crossbench peers have expressed fears that in furthering the market mechanism the reputation of UK universities may be damaged.

US for-profit institutions set a poor example. The US Government Accountability Office has reported misleading marketing from such institutions and a Senate committee has released data stating that within three years a quarter of students enrolled in for-profit institutions default on their loans.

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