Private provision is a bankrupt approach 1

April 30, 2009

You report a suggestion by Policy Exchange that private, presumably "for profit", providers might take over all or parts of failing universities ("Bankruptcy should be a real option, argues think-tank", 23 April).

While it is clear from a number of surveys that private providers are capable of meeting market needs that conventional public and not-for-profit institutions are not - chiefly, the flexible provision of post-experience courses for people in work - they tend to cherry-pick subjects and courses that are more profitable: they have to obtain a return for their owners, after all. This reduces the ability of conventional universities and colleges to cross-subsidise provision that has less market support, which leads to a reduction in the range of courses on offer.

In this respect, as in many others, marketisation in higher education actually means less choice for consumers, not more. If we want to retain a comprehensive range of subjects and courses, there is no substitute for public action and public subsidies.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University.

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