The Labour Party has branded David Willetts’ expansion of for-profit provision as a “failed ideological assault on higher education”.
Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow minister for universities, science and skills, has urged MPs to bring forward their investigation into for-profits’ use of public funds and said Labour would provide oversight of such spending.
Mr Byrne’s comments follow a series of revelations about allegedly poor quality provision at the London School of Science and Technology, and about the explosion of public funding at for-profit providers such as GSM London and St Patrick’s International College – which received around £11 million each in fee funding from the Student Loans Company in 2012-13, more than the London School of Economics.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said she has asked the National Audit Office to start an inquiry into public funding at for-profit colleges, following allegations about empty classrooms at LSST.
Nearly £1 billion will be paid out to students at private providers by the SLC next year, up from just £30 million in 2010, a level of spending that will add to the squeeze on funding for universities.
Mr Byrne turned his fire on Mr Willetts, the universities and science minister, who has championed the expansion of private provision.
“This government’s ideological assault on higher education has failed,” said Mr Byrne. “If David Willetts won’t provide oversight of the profit-making colleges haemorrhaging £1 billion of taxpayers’ money each year, then the Labour Party will.
“I have written to Margaret Hodge asking her to bring forward the public accounts investigation and I’ve commissioned the House of Commons Library to procure the accounts for every single for-profit private college out there. I will make this information publicly available. It’s time for transparency and it’s time for scrutiny. We have to put an end to this failed free market experiment.”
Times Higher Education has revealed that St Patrick’s, which recruited more than 4,000 students to study sub-degree Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas on public-backed loans in just one year, is owned offshore by a Dutch holding company.