Private higher education colleges should be subsidised by the public purse to the tune of Pounds 3,000 a student, the sector's leaders will tell the government.
In a paper to be submitted to the Department for Education and Employment later this year, the Council for Independent Colleges and Research Institutions will recommend that students should be encouraged into full fee paying private-sector higher education with a Pounds 3,000 mandatory grant from the public purse. This will still be cheaper than if the student was to go to a public sector university, it will be argued.
The CICRI paper was requested by the DfEE as part of a review of grants for students in the private sector. Students, who typically pay tuition fees of up to Pounds 8,000 a year to private colleges for externally accredited and validated degrees, have been entitled, like students at public universities, to a mandatory grant of about Pounds 1,000 a year from their local authorities.
Ministers have already begun to increase loans and phase-out the mandatory student grants for those going into public sector institutions, and the grant will be completely scrapped next year. But so far, no decision has been made on the future of the grant for those going into the private sector.
CICRI, which fears the government will scrap the local authority grants for its students, will warn that the subsidy is not only essential for the future of the private higher education sector, but that it should also be increased to Pounds 3,000.
Marcel van Miert, the chairman of CICRI and director of the private European Business School, said: "From this year students in the public sector will have to pay Pounds 1,000 for tuition fees, but the government will still have to pay Pounds 4,000 for each student to cover the rest of the fee.
"Students at private colleges pay all their tuition fees, an average of Pounds 6,000, and the only cost to the government has been the local authority grant. If the grant was scrapped, it would save the government very little, and it would discourage students to opt for degrees in private colleges."
CICRI, which represents institutions such as Richmond College and the Royal Agricultural College, will argue that even if the mandatory grant were increased to Pounds 3,000, private college higher education would still be provided at a lower cost to the public purse than in the public sector.
A spokesman for the DfEE said that a decision on the future of the grant for students in private higher education will be made late this year, or early in 1999.