Private university regulation 'a mess'

A scheme to fund more student places at private universities is under fire after the Universities minister, David Willetts, admitted that no checks are made on whether undergraduates complete their course.

In answer to a Commons question from Labour's higher education spokeswoman, Shabana Mahmood, he said his department did not have data on drop-out rates. He also revealed that "due diligence" checkson on the private institutions involved "do not consider the quality of the education provided". Lecturers' leaders accused ministers of getting themselves into "a complete mess over the way [the Government] regulates private providers".

The Government is encouraging more private colleges to compete for students, who are eligible for loans of up to £6,000 a year if they enrol with a registered provider. The number of students receiving loans for study at private providers has almost doubled in the past four years from 3,300 to 5,900.

In that time, the amount of taxpayers' money paid to private universities and higher education colleges has doubled to £33m.

"We find it extremely surprising that at a time when money is being cut from our university and college budgets in the name of austerity, £33m of taxpayers' money has been handed to private providers," said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union.

Last year, 285 private courses were approved by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, as eligible for students to receive loans. Half of them were run by US companies.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "We are currently considering whether any further steps are needed to ensure that all providers accessing student loans attain a good standard of quality."

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