Chalk Talk: Why private students aren't the way to ease the fees pain

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The Independent Online

A salutary message comes from the US for ministers pinning their hopes on the private sector bailing them out of their current dilemma over student fees. The plot so far: ministers are anxious to encourage more private sector provision of degree courses, to pressurise existing universities to lower their proposed fee charges for next year. To that end, they have already held meetings with representatives of the BPP University College of Professional Studies. The idea is to offer private students loans, just as would be the case for students at state-financed universities.

Trouble is, Gareth Thomas, Labour's shadow universities spokesman, has unearthed details of a little-publicised court hearing in the United States, during which it emerged the University of Phoenix was accused in a 2004 government regulator's report of "systematically engaging in actions designed to mislead the Department of Education" over student recruitment practices.

The university's parent company is the Apollo Group, of which BPP is a subsidiary. It's a tenuous link, but it has prompted Mr Thomas to warn: "The experience from the United States suggests careful regulation will be required to ensure even more financial problems don't hit the Government's higher education budget."

* Schools should be given more freedom to sack incompetent teachers, came the message last week. We are, of course, used to successive government ministers repeating this mantra as they attempt to get headlines about cracking down on poor standards in schools.

Who said it this time, though? Why, it was the teachers themselves. A survey of 2,170 teachers carried out by the National Foundation for Education Research for the education charity, the Sutton Trust, revealed that 52 per cent of teachers and 73 per cent of heads believe their schools do not have enough freedom to get rid of their incompetent colleagues.

The received wisdom from the teachers' unions has always been that the Government's initiatives are much of a fuss about nothing. It seems their members do not agree with them.

* More evidence of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the champion of much of its work, Michael Gove, being on opposite sides of the fence. The OECD suggested last week that the Government should restore the education maintenance allowance of £30 a week if it really wanted to improve the life chances of disadvantaged youngsters.