A for-profit rock music school now receives more mainstream public funding for teaching than the London School of Economics after almost trebling the number of students holding state-backed loans in three years, latest figures show.
The British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM), which offers degrees in contemporary music, including courses in songwriting, music production and music journalism, was the biggest recipient of Student Loan Company funding of any private provider in 2016-17, netting £24.4 million in tuition fee loans from 4,183 full-time students, Times Higher Education can reveal.
That is three times as much as the school, which was founded in 2001 as the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, claimed in 2013-14, when it took £7.2 million of SLC funding for 1,372 students.
It is also more than the amount taken by several UK universities, including the LSE, which received £18 million in 2016-17 via loans taken out by full-time UK and European Union students, official SLC figures show.
The music school, which charges £7,250 a year in tuition fees, also received more SLC funding for full-time undergraduates than Soas, University of London (£16.6 million) and Harper Adams University (£13 million) in 2016-17, according to SLC data.
The rapid expansion of BIMM follows investment by private equity firm Sovereign Capital, which acquired a majority stake in the business in 2010 when it had 1,150 students. It now has a total of 6,500 students after opening colleges in Dublin, Manchester, Berlin and Birmingham in addition to its Brighton, Bristol and London bases, according to the fund’s website.
Sovereign Capital also owns Greenwich School of Management (GSM), which received £19.9 million, the second-highest amount of SLC funding of any for-profit provider in 2016-17. With no other alternative provider taking more than £6 million in full-time SLC funding, these two institutions accounted for 30 per cent of the £150 million awarded to alternative providers last year, figures show. In addition, students at BIMM and GSM claimed £19.8 million and £44.5 million, respectively, in maintenance loans in 2016-17.
Adam Carswell, BIMM’s chief executive, put the institution’s growth down to a “combination of value for money fees, coupled with highly vocational courses and strong connections to the music and wider creative industries”.
But, while the overall total awarded to alternative providers is down from a peak of £236 million in 2014-15, the latest figures are likely to reignite debate over whether the taxpayer should underwrite rapid expansion of for-profit providers, where dropout rates are often much higher than in universities and graduate outcomes are less easily measured.
In October, the National Audit Office published a report stating that the Department for Education “still has important issues to address before it can provide assurance that it has a firm grip on current or emerging problems” in alternative providers designated for public funding, quoting an average dropout rate of 25 per cent.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the new Office for Students needed to ensure that for-profit providers lived up to the same standards as public universities.
“The rapid increase in the sums of money making their way to private equity firms with little checks or balances is quite extraordinary,” she said.
“We need a regulator who will enforce far greater transparency and better governance in our institutions and one that recognises the extra risk for-profit institutions pose.”
David O’Connor, group marketing director at BIMM, said that the institute’s provision had been commended by the Quality Assurance Agency in an April 2016 report. Asked about graduate outcomes, Mr O’Connor said that the institute’s latest graduate survey showed that 82 per cent of BIMM alumni are in work six months after graduating, and, of those employed, “72 per cent are working in the music or wider creative industries in many diverse and professional job roles”.