An email from an official at London Higher, which represents a number of universities and colleges in the capital, to a small number of private providers mentioned an “urgent request” for information from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills “for information on widening access and alternative providers”.
“BIS have a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing next week looking at alternative providers. They are seeking evidence that supports the contribution alternative providers are making to the widening access agenda,” the email says.
The email, sent yesterday, adds that “they would like any information you have, by tomorrow at 11.00 am (this is the absolute deadline for BIS)”.
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee are holding a hearing on 15 December, after a National Audit Office report examined concerns around public funding at private providers.
BIS is likely to come under pressure at the hearing to justify the explosion in funding at private providers, which have not been subject to student number controls until this year.
Martin Donnelly, permanent secretary at BIS, will be among those appearing before the PAC. BIS has already completed written submissions to the committee.
Among the information sought from private providers is “the composition of your student body and the extent that your students are drawn from widening access backgrounds, ie, from lower socio-economic groups, with disabilities, over 21, from care backgrounds or from BME [black and minority ethnic] backgrounds”, the email says.
The email concludes: “Any information you provide may be used by BIS in the public domain. This is a good opportunity to support the case for alternative providers in higher education and show the contribution they are making to the widening access agenda.”
In his previous appearance before the PAC a year ago, Mr Donnelly underwent a bruising experience. He was criticised as “deeply unprepared” by Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and PAC chair.