Not for profit

February 7, 2013

Given that he is so keen on the evidence, Peter Crisp might do worse than look carefully at the reports into for-profit higher education produced by Harvard University academics and Tom Harkin, US senator for Iowa (“Sound and fury”, 24 January). These reports show how government policies that deregulated the American higher education market enabled the growth of an industry dominated by companies engaged in systematic subsidy-hunting. These firms are posting bloated profits for delivering mass educational underperformance.

Apollo Group, the company that bankrolls Crisp’s employer, BPP Law School, is right at the top of the industry. No one should be fooled by his talk of ploughing back profits into education: when Apollo bought BPP in 2009, it was very clear that the investment would create “shareholder value”.

The last two sets of its annual accounts show that BPP has retained profits of more than £23 million, which sit on its books, unspent. Could it be that it is waiting for the government to deliver the VAT exemption that would allow it to carry on claiming the tax breaks of a charity while siphoning off profits to its parent company?

If the government and BPP get their way, the UK will have its own University of Phoenix sooner or later. That is inescapable, for all Crisp’s protestations. And that is why we will continue to campaign against for-profit higher education.

Sally Hunt
General secretary
University and College Union

The University of Central Lancashire’s proposal to become a company limited by guarantee should be of profound concern to all those who believe in a transparent, public higher education system. The plan strikes at the core of the UK academy and sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the sector.

The university is clear in its aim to encourage investment to expand its overseas campuses. Unison is concerned that the proposal jeopardises Uclan’s financial security by leaving it exposed to the asset- strippers.

Private equity funds have a terrible reputation for attacking staff and saddling their companies with unsustainable debt. In the US, for-profit universities backed by such funds are a public scandal.

Uclan’s move would have a devastating impact on the local economy, access to education, academic provision, the student experience and staff morale. Privatisation would weaken autonomy and undermine the university’s academic integrity. Education should not be run for profit: universities should serve their students and communities.

Denise Ward
Chair, Unison Higher Education

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