Private positives

August 4, 2016

I would argue that the disappointing letter “Private ventures ripe for failure” (28 July) is backwards-looking and self-protectionist. It is an unreasoned attack on the alternative provider sector in which many different kinds of institutions deliver first-class higher education and excellent value for money.

The authors do not address improvements in the student experience or the long-term future of higher education in a changing world. Instead, their argument aims to restrict innovative and student-focused learning. At present, the UK institutions most likely to fail are both underperforming and state-funded. Perhaps we should all pay closer attention to the lessons of history.

As Jo Johnson, the minister for universities and science, has pointed out, University College London and King’s College London were once dismissed as “upstart commoners” but are today recognised as being among the top 30 in the world. Similarly, many redbrick universities that were once disparaged are now in the top 200 globally.

The main purpose of the Higher Education and Research Bill is not simply to expand the role of alternative providers. It has been widely accepted for many years that new legislation is needed for the equitable and effective management of higher education. Of course we must maintain quality, but this can be achieved through further improvement of Quality Assurance Agency processes.

The best defence of our world-class university system is not to fight tooth and nail against change. Instead, we should be working jointly to ensure the expansion of quality education for all students while bringing positive and new ideas to the debate, no matter from what source.

Aldwyn Cooper
Regent’s University London

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