Private colleges better value over universities’ ‘ridiculously long vacations’, former minister says

June 25, 2011

For-profit higher education providers could “really strike a chord” with students worried about the value for money of traditional £9,000-a-year degrees with “ridiculous” long vacations, according to an influential education policy expert.

Lord Adonis, director of the Institute for Government think tank and a former education minister, said that it would be “a jolly good thing” if for-profit private universities shook up the degree market with shorter, more “intensive” degrees that could provide better value for money.

Giving a lecture at a dinner in London on 23 June organised by the 1994 Group of smaller research-led institutions, Lord Adonis said that private universities offered no “magic bullet” but could offer an attractive alternative model of higher education.

“What the for-profit operators might have going for [them] is a different model of higher education,” he said. “When people are paying £9,000 a year and they’re seriously worried about the return that they are getting, is this [traditional] model of higher education… of basically part-time universities where you work two thirds of the year and you don’t even work fully… is that going to be the model for mainstream higher education in the future? Or could operators like BPP really strike a chord by offering much more intensive degrees for much shorter period of time?”

He said that there could be merit in “just abandoning these ridiculously long vacations … That only really makes sense as far as I can see if you want to travel the world or you need to get a job”.

“I suspect that competition will hot up in that area and my own view is that it would be a jolly good thing if it does. It may be that there are other models there that give much better value for money and give students a better learning experience too.”

In the Labour government, Lord Adonis was a senior advisor on education in Downing Street, and spent a total twelve years as a minister and special adviser, most recently in the cabinet as Secretary of State for transport.

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