Government urged to explain ‘dramatic’ shrinkage in private student numbers

Meanwhile, Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance and Chinese medicine college among those allocated publicly funded places

December 24, 2015
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Source: Alamy
Capacity crowd: student number controls at for-profits were introduced in 2014

Several of the country’s largest private colleges have seen their numbers of publicly funded students shrink “dramatically” under a new regime of number controls.

Fee and maintenance support for students at private colleges totalled £533.6 million in 2014-15, according to figures published by the Student Loans Company.

The equivalent £723.6 million figure for 2013-14, revised upwards since last year’s data were published because private colleges have multiple intakes throughout the year, shows the explosive growth in public-backed funding for students at private colleges, rising from just £30 million in 2010 when Lord Willetts, who was then universities and science minister, began to expand private provision.

But after concerns about quality at some private colleges and soaring public funding, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills introduced student number controls at private providers in 2014-15.

St Patrick’s, previously the college with the highest level of public-backed funding, had 2,975 students receiving a total of £10 million in fee loans in 2014-15, according to the SLC figures.

That was down from 7,096 students receiving a total of £33.6 million in fee loans the previous year.

The London School of Business and Finance, part of Global University Systems alongside St Patrick’s, saw its number of students with fee loans decline to 2,163 in 2014-15, down from 4,318.

Private equity-owned GSM London, which last week saw the Quality Assurance Agency uphold concerns about one of its business courses, takes over the top spot from St Patrick’s, with 5,408 students receiving £20.7 million in fee loans.

Times Higher Education asked BIS to explain the falls. A BIS spokesman said that the department would not “speculate on the specific circumstances of student numbers at individual providers”, but added that the introduction of student number controls “will have placed a limit on the number of students that can access public support, and will have been a contributing factor”.

Meanwhile, BIS has published the number of places for new students allocated to private colleges in 2014-15, which total 23,454.

Colleges granted small allocations of publicly funded students include Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance and the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine.

Andrew McGettigan, a writer and researcher on higher education and author of The Great University Gamble, said: “The SLC and SNC [student number controls] figures have been published without any accompanying comment from the government.”

He added that “some private providers that grew rapidly before 2014-15 appear to have shrunk dramatically”.

He continued: “The government needs to tell us how many funded students at these places achieved qualifications. Millions of pounds of public money has subsidised the salaries [at] and profits of these companies and it’s simply unacceptable for BIS to refuse to account for what’s happening.”

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