Private providers create ‘Russell Group of the alternative sector’

Members of the Independent Universities Group want to distinguish themselves from ‘dodgy’ for-profit colleges

January 8, 2015

A group representing non-profit and for-profit private providers aims to be “the Russell Group of the alternative sector” and to dissociate its members from “dodgy” for-profit colleges.

The Independent Universities Group, representing eight institutions with degree-awarding powers and/or university title that are not funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was scheduled to be formally established at a meeting on 6 January.

Some suggest that membership of the IUG or attainment of the entry requirement of degree-awarding powers could in future become key regulatory thresholds for private providers to demonstrate quality – particularly if a Labour government is returned after the 2015 election and introduces tougher regulation on private providers.

The IUG was set to be made up of five non-profit institutions and three for-profit or for-profit-owned institutions: Ashridge Business School; BPP University (whose parent company is US higher education firm Apollo Group); the University of Buckingham; the College of Estate Management; the University of Law (owned by Montagu Private Equity); Regent’s University London; RDI (a subsidiary of US firm Capella Education Company); and Richmond, the American International University in London.

The only private institution with degree-awarding powers that has opted not to join the group is not-for-profit ifs University College. Richmond does not have UK degree-awarding powers, but has US accreditation.

Aldwyn Cooper, Regent’s vice-chancellor, said: “In a sense we do see ourselves as a sort of Russell Group of the alternative sector. Because we want there to be a recognition that there is a distinct difference between different elements of the alternative sector, which is still confusing to the general public and to MPs, frankly.”

Professor Cooper said part of the group’s aim was to stress that members had “been under greater inspection and had to achieve greater levels of quality assurance than most of the state-funded sector”.

The group is likely to lobby for its members to be granted access to higher fees via the Student Loans Company – students at private providers can borrow only £6,000 a year for fees. Professor Cooper called the lower cap “iniquitous” as “we’ve achieved exactly the same criteria” as state-funded universities.

Professor Cooper added that there were some “very dodgy colleges still out there” who were “doing a disservice to the alternative sector as a whole” and he did not mind if they were criticised.

“We’re really happy for them to be hammered and hammered good,” he said. “But we don’t want to be associated with them.”

Alistair Alcock, acting vice-chancellor at Buckingham, said that universities such as Regent’s and Buckingham “are for certain purposes treated as alternative providers, and issues surrounding numbers caps, loans and status are ones that do not affect fellow Universities UK members in the same way. So we do feel a separate voice needs to be heard for this growing group of HE providers.”

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