When owners change, keep check on powers (1 of 2)

April 26, 2012

The news that a private equity group has purchased the private not-for-profit College of Law (The week in higher education, 19 April) raises again the question of whether there should be stricter controls when a not-for-profit is taken over by a for-profit. This sort of transaction raises major public policy issues for those concerned with maintaining academic standards against commercial pressures of the kind recently experienced in the US.

Although most university and college governing bodies delegate the application of degree-awarding powers to senates or academic boards, it is the council or board of governors, as the supreme authority within each institution, that remains formally responsible for said powers and ultimately determines the conditions under which they are exercised.

It is our firm conviction that when, in cases of sales or takeovers, an institution is replaced by another, and whatever the corporate structure of the purchaser, the new owner should undergo the same process of scrutiny as the previous applicant had to undergo. This does not seem to have applied when BPP College was purchased by Apollo Group a couple of years ago; it is not yet clear whether it will apply in this latest case. It is particularly important because the College of Law is the first of the post-2004 providers with degree-awarding powers to be undergoing scrutiny for the renewal of its powers.

When the question of the behaviour of US for-profits has been raised with him, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has referred to the relatively more relaxed American regulatory regime. Yet in the US, it is usual for any college or university that changes ownership to lose its accreditation, although its new owners can of course reapply.

Perhaps this is one area where we might benefit from following US regulatory practice.

Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University

Geoffrey Alderman, Michael Gross professor of politics and contemporary history, University of Buckingham

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show