Private universities group could form without University of Law

'Uncertainties' following takeover of the private university mean it will not take part in talks to form group, says Regent's head

June 20, 2015

Members of the proposed Independent Universities Group will hold talks without the University of Law about establishing the body, following the institution's takeover by Global University Systems.

The IUG, billed as a potential “Russell Group of the alternative sector”, has previously been described as being open to institutions with degree-awarding powers and/or university title that are not funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The University of Law would meet those criteria. But Aldwyn Cooper, vice-chancellor of Regent’s University London, one of the institutions involved in talks to form the IUG, said there were two “uncertainties” following the university’s takeover by GUS, an umbrella group of private colleges that includes the London School of Business and Finance and St Patrick’s College.

After the takeover, there will be an internal strategic review within GUS and checks on the University of Law by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, he noted.

Professor Cooper said of the IUG that at present, “technically the group doesn’t exist”. He added that although there had been discussions about establishing a "formal group” for some time, the general election had “got in the way”.

He said he expected there would be a meeting of the interested institutions in mid-July. But Professor Cooper added that “at the present time” the University of Law would not be involved in discussions “about putting together the formal paperwork”.

The University of Law declined to comment.

Others institutions interested in forming the IUG are Ashridge Business School, BPP University, the University of Buckingham, the College of Estate Management, distance learning specialist RDI and Richmond, the American International University in London.

Both LSBF and St Patrick's have been among private providers who have been under scrutiny in recent years for their growing use of the state-backed student loans system.

In a report earlier this year, the Quality Assurance Agency upheld two out of six concerns raised about St Patrick’s. The QAA found dropout rates of more than 30 per cent on St Patrick’s courses, along with reports from current students of “fighting in the classroom”.

However, BIS lifted its suspension of Student Loans Company fee payments at the college following publication of the report, and the completion of its own investigation.

GUS, which has a group structure, has said it will carry out a “strategic options review of all its UK regulated businesses” following its takeover of the University of Law. This process “may see realignment of some, or all, of GUS UK’s existing businesses under the umbrella of ULaw, so that…the ultimate oversight of academic standards, quality systems, processes and practices rests with the university”, GUS said in a statement when the deal was announced this month.

BIS issued guidance in 2012 stating: “When the ownership or control of a university or university college changes, it must inform BIS of the intended sale or change and, within three months of conclusion of the sale or change, provide evidence that it continues to satisfy the criteria for student numbers and good governance as set out in this guidance.”

It is understood that this guidance remains in place.

A BIS spokesman said earlier this month: “The department has been notified of the purchase of the University of Law. We are working with the institution and Global University Systems to ensure that there is minimal disruption to students throughout this transition and that its high quality of education is upheld.”

Separately, BIS has suspended the process for applying for degree awarding powers and university title, Times Higher Education reported this week.

A BIS spokesman said the department was reviewing criteria and guidance on the valuable statuses “to ensure they continue to protect the reputation and integrity of the UK higher education sector”.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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