Truth to powers

November 11, 2010

There is one point in the Policy Exchange report on private providers in higher education that must not go unchallenged ("Private firms keen to take Queen's shilling for student support", 4 November).

You quote the report as arguing that, to promote collaboration between public and private providers, the government should assure private firms that degree-awarding powers and title will not be jeopardised should they take over a university or a university college.

Nothing could be further from the public interest. Degree-awarding powers and university title are granted to the sovereign body of an institution, usually the governing council. This is on the basis of that institution's track record and its ability to convince the Privy Council that it can be safely entrusted with the powers.

By definition, in a takeover, another sovereign body - the board of the private company in this case - supersedes that to which the powers were previously given. The new owners should therefore undergo a fresh process of scrutiny against the same criteria. Without it, it is difficult to see how the powers can be safely awarded.

This is a fundamental issue of public policy. It would appear that no such process took place when Apollo Group took over BPP College last year.

Geoffrey Alderman, University of Buckingham; Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University.

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