Private concerns

Smita Jamdar

The latest Times Higher carries an interesting piece about the relatively unknown nature of the private provider market, in whom the Coalition government are investing much effort and energy as a way to introduce greater competition and choice into higher education.  Research is being commissioned to find out more about the diverse providers in the private sector and it will be interesting to see what this reveals. What is clear, however, is that there are a number of significant dividing lines. The market includes large multi-nationals (Laureate et al) and small single site companies. It spans the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. It includes providers who focus on a single specialism as well as those that offer courses across the board, or at least across more of the board. Finally, it includes many providers whose interest currently lies primarily in recruiting overseas students rather than servicing UK/EU students.

In common with publicly funded HEIs , many private providers have been grappling with the UKBA requirements around highly trusted sponsor status. Educational oversight may prove a bridge too far for some of these, and the changes to work rights have had a detrimental effect on student recruitment for others. In short there is considerable volatility, with some providers in financial difficulty, threatening potentially negative consequences for their overseas students. Future expansion could leave more UK/EU students in the same boat. The Government has said it won’t rescue failing universities, and presumably the same goes for failing private providers, so a key question will be how the risk of business failure in the expanded marketplace is to be managed. 

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
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