Private universities: An independent advantage

The increase in tuition fees has made private universities a more popular option

Thursday 16 August 2012 09:46
Comments
Regent’s College London will be able to grant its own degrees from September and aims to have university status by 2013
Regent’s College London will be able to grant its own degrees from September and aims to have university status by 2013

Private universities are in the news. On 27 July Regent's College, a private institution in Central London, announced that it has been granted "taught degree awarding powers" from 1 September and hopes to have university status by the end of the year. This is part of the Government's higher education reforms designed to broaden student choice by opening universities to competition.

There are currently only two private universities in the UK: the University of Buckingham, which is the only independent university to have a royal charter; and London-based BPP, which is a university college. "This designation is given to specialist institutions which can confer their own degrees like a university," says BPP's principal Carl Lygo. "BPP specialises in professional degrees in law, business, accounting and healthcare."

Although BPP University College is privately operated and run, students on its undergraduate programmes are still eligible for student loans. Unlike Regent's College and the University of Buckingham, which are registered charities, BPP is a for-profit establishment with two major shareholders: Carlisle, a UK private equity group; and the US higher education company Apollo.

In the past, the fees charged by private degree providers made them financially uncompetitive against their public university counterparts. With the new tuition fee structure coming into effect this autumn BPP's fees will be among the lowest in the UK at either £6,000 or £5,000 per annum for a two- or three-year degree respectively. "We offer excellent value for money," claims Lygo, but there are other reasons for a student to go for a degree from a private provider. "They tend to be specialists and BPP is highly focused on our students' future career. One third of all new entrants to the English legal profession are educated by us. Our students want to go into a profession rather than have a general career."

Small class sizes are another attraction in the private sector, says Lygo. "Ours usually have 12 to 18 participants, and in some cases, such as role play for a barrister in court, it is one to one teaching."

The private London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), founded eight years ago, has a range of partners, such as the universities of Bradford and Central Lancashire, the London Metropolitan University and Grenoble Graduate School of Business. Dr Ann Thorne, an executive dean at LSBF, worked for 15 years in the university sector and is conscious of the benefits which private providers supply. "We don't necessarily build on a historical background, but look at what the students require for their future careers. Most universities have a static campus, but LSBF is lean and flexible, so we can to where the market is – for example we're setting up shop in Birmingham [to meet health sector demand]."

There are clearly plenty of non-university private providers who offer a combination of options, such as partnerships with universities, the sanction to award degrees, and some that aspire to university status, but Buckingham is currently the only independent university in the UK. It does not receive government funding and is therefore free of bureaucratic governmental controls. It was set up as a charity 40 years ago by academics who were increasingly concerned about the creeping nationalisation of universities, which were becoming subject to more government direction as to what they taught and who they took.

The University of Buckingham has come top of the National Student Survey for five years running. What's it doing right? "All our staff are conscious that the students are our salary so our principal energies are directed at them," says Professor Alistair Alcock, deputy vice-chancellor of Buckingham. " We have a maximum of 20 in a class, and our size – under 2,000 students – means that we offer individual pastoral care. We have properly funded two-year degrees with a taught summer term, not distance learning like other establishments. All this is reflected in the fact that our applications are up 100 per cent this year, while across the sector they are down 10 per cent."

Many public universities are principally driven by research and the government funding that comes with it. Professor Alcock sees Buckingham's independence as a huge advantage. "When there's a dilemma between spending time and energy on students or getting the research project finished, it's clear which you go for."

With some traditional universities offering degree programmes that have little relevance to students' careers while chasing public funding for research that is of little relevance to the workplace, private universities are creating healthy competition and sharpening up the provision of programmes that are more relevant to the needs of employers and students.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in