As UK universities slip down world rankings, is private higher education the way forward?

Carl Lygo

So how do governments respond to educational demand in a time of austerity, when there’s estimated to be 300m students globally by 2025? Enter the private sector, which provides quality higher education on a large scale. A major plus is that programmes tend to be career focussed, closely aligned to the world of work and created in conjunction with employers and professional bodies. Additionally, private universities encourage flexible studying and the use of technology to deliver educational experiences to students. Private providers in the UK are currently in the minority, and sometimes are unfairly misunderstood. Critics views are often unfounded; one being that private providers offer lesser quality degrees. This is not true – five UK organisations have been granted degree awarding powers, with more to come. Nor are they any more expensive than public universities. In fact, greater personal tuition represents better value.

Carl Lygo is principal of BPP University College.

John Holmwood

The government is encouraging for-profit higher education providers, arguing that they will improve quality and reduce costs for students. After the replacement of direct public funding by student fees, the government believes for-profits will put fees closer to £6,000 rather than the £9,000 charged by most universities. But, at £6,000, students will still pay nearly twice as much as in the previous system, while each degree programme will receive about £1,500 less in resource terms. For-profits usually spend about 35 per cent of their revenues on marketing, as well as drawing off profits for shareholders. As a recent US Senate report (the Harkin Report) has shown, for-profit providers are both high cost and poor value. They provide none of the wider benefits of universities, and spend a smaller proportion of their fee income on teaching.

John Holmwood is professor of sociology at the University of Nottingham, and co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University.

These are extracts from Blue Skies: new thinking about the future of higher education, published by the Pearson Think Tank, and can be found at