Private firms tighten grip

April 20, 2007

More universities are handing their English-language tuition to outside firms, Melanie Newman reports

Private companies are in talks with six universities to provide English-language teaching to foreign students and have recently signed contracts with four others, The Times Higher has learnt.

Should the discussions bear fruit, five companies - Into, Study Group International, Kaplan, IBT Education and In-Search - will have deals with 22 UK universities.

The growth of private provision in universities is causing concern among some academics. The University and College Union is due to discuss the issue at its conference next month.

For two years, Kaplan has been teaching foreign students integrated academic and English-language pre-entry courses at foundation, diploma and pre-masters level at Nottingham Trent University. A UCU spokesman at the university said: "While we were reassured that the Kaplan deal would not affect existing provision, the university used to teach English to pre-masters students and that has dwindled."

A Nottingham Trent spokesman said that a computing and English course had closed due to low recruitment unconnected with the Kaplan deal, but numbers of students on the university's pre-masters course were growing.

She added: "The number of sessional staff has been reduced as a result of the closure of the all-year English-language programme and the summer school, due to a strategic decision to focus on English for academic purposes courses."

Kaplan is understood to be in talks with Birmingham and Liverpool universities. It has been providing foundation studies and pre-masters qualifications along with English-language training for Sheffield University since September 2006, and a deal with Glasgow University will begin this year.

Private company Into has taken over language centres at the universities of Exeter and East Anglia. In March, Oxford Brookes University decided against handing over the running of its International Centre for English Language Studies to Into.

The Times Higher understands that London South Bank and Leeds Metropolitan universities are talking with Into, although the latter said it had no plans to privatise language courses.

At Lancaster University, Study Group International's language and study skills courses for international students will begin this year. The university said the deal would not affect its pre-sessional or in-sessional teaching. "They will continue as before."

SGI started a foundation programme with English-language preparation courses at Sussex University last September. Staff at Sussex's Language Institute said that SGI's presence had not affected the university's provision.

Programmes will start at Surrey and Stirling universities this year.

Leicester, Heriot-Watt and Huddersfield universities said they were in discussions with the firm. Northumbria University recently pulled out of talks with SGI.

A Huddersfield spokesman said it had one member of staff involved in English-language teaching to foreign students at the university and that they were on a contract due to end next year.

Meanwhile, Swansea University confirmed it was in discussions with IBT Education, which has been running a centre for international students at Brunel University since 2004.

The "creeping privatisation and marketisation" of higher and further education will come under renewed attack during the UCU's congress in Bournemouth next month. There are three motions attacking privatisation.

Neil Williamson, joint chair of the UCU's transitional arrangements committee, which submitted one of the motions, said: "The privatisation of the language centres is the thin end of the wedge."

A motion from Nottingham Trent, London Metropolitan and Brighton universities resolves to support strike action if necessary to resist privatisation, to organise a national demonstration and to campaign with other unions.

A motion from London Metropolitan University and three further education colleges links privatisation with an attack on national bargaining.

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

WHO RUNS COURSES WHERE

  • IBT Education: at Hertfordshire since 2000; at Brunel since 2004; in discussions with Swansea
  • In-Search: at Essex since 2000
  • Kaplan: at Nottingham Trent since 2005; at Sheffield from 2006; at Glasgow from 2007; in discussions with Birmingham and Liverpool
  • Study Group International: at Sussex since 2005; at Surrey, Lancaster and Stirling from 2007; in discussions with Leicester, Heriot-Watt and Huddersfield
  • Into: at East Anglia since 2004; at Newcastle since January 2007; and at Exeter since December 2006. In discussions with Leeds Metropolitan and South Bank University (unconfirmed).

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