The UK’s Department for Education has allowed a second for-profit institution to use “university” in its name when it does not have the credentials to secure the title under established processes, giving the green light to the “University Campus of Football Business”.
Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow higher education minister, said that the government was showing “contempt for the long-established requirements for university title” and risked “damaging the reputation of our higher education sector”.
In September 2017, Times Higher Education revealed that the DfE had given permission for a venture launched by ex-footballer Gary Neville and Lancaster University to call itself University Academy 92. Now THE has learned that the DfE has also allowed a name change by UCFB so that it can call itself the University Campus of Football Business. Previously, the institution’s official title had been its initials.
While securing permission to use “university” in their names is an asset for the institutions in their marketing to potential students, others in the sector fear the potential for a proliferation of “universities” that will erode the meaning of that term.
Neither UA92 nor UCFB has their own degree-awarding powers. Government guidance that will remain in force until 31 March 2019 states that an institution wishing to apply for university title “must have been granted powers to award taught degrees”, “must be able to demonstrate that it has regard to the principles of good governance as are relevant to its sector” and “must normally have at least 1,000 full-time equivalent higher education students”.
Additionally, “university” is a protected term under company law. It is under this Companies House legislation about use of the protected term, rather than the established university title process, that DfE has granted the permission to UA92 and UCFB.
The fact that UCFB and UA92 could be seen as potential rivals could increase sector interest in the DfE’s moves. Both will have campuses in Manchester and the key figures behind the institutions are linked.
UCFB, which has been described in previous newspaper coverage as “the world’s first university of football”, now has campuses at Wembley Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, having launched at Burnley FC in 2011.
Brendan Flood, listed on the UCFB website as chairman, director and shareholder, is a director and co-owner of Premier League club Burnley. Mr Flood, a property developer, is also a director, alongside Mr Neville and his fellow ex-Manchester United player Ryan Giggs, in the Jacksons Row Development company behind controversial plans to redevelop part of central Manchester. Although a press report in 2012 suggested that Mr Flood had “split” from Mr Neville, the business relationship appears to have continued subsequently.
Iain Adlington, senior policy adviser on higher education in the DfE, wrote to UCFB on 22 March authorising the name change. Mr Adlington says that the DfE was “satisfied that the use of the word ‘university’ is appropriate in this context”. He adds that “this letter of non-objection is conditional on the company maintaining the partnership you describe in your letter with Buckinghamshire New University or another UK university”.
UCFB delivers degrees in sports business, coaching and psychology awarded by Bucks New.
A DfE spokesman said: “The term ‘university’ is protected by law and strictly controlled. Higher education providers may apply to use a term such as university centre or campus in their name if they are in partnership with a university and are delivering degree-level courses.”
Sharona Friedman, chief marketing officer of UCFB, said that the DfE’s move “demonstrates confidence in UCFB from external regulators and is another acknowledgement of UCFB as a quality provider in higher education, as a college of Bucks New University”.
UCFB is owned by its shareholders, which do not include Bucks New.
Labour’s Mr Marsden said: “It is extremely concerning to hear the department is allowing new providers to use university in their title without going through the proper established process.
“As we warned consistently throughout the HE bill, it is imperative that anybody that is awarded university title has met the rigorous criteria to do so, and will not put the student interest at risk – or potentially damage the UK brand and reputation of our higher education sector.”
Paul Kirkham, chief executive of the for-profit Institute of Contemporary Music Performance and a long-standing advocate for alternative providers, said of the general situation that “university title must mean something and has to be earned, and there are clear guidelines that must be followed”. He added: “There should be no exceptions to due process. The value of the UK HE sector is very important to the country and must be properly safeguarded.”