Source: Neil Turner
The University of Gloucestershire is considering running its business school as a joint venture with a for‑profit firm, in what could be a first for a UK university department teaching home students.
The firm thought to be in the frame for the joint venture is INTO, which runs pathway centres for overseas students at several universities including Gloucestershire.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the UCU believed that such a move could be the first time that “a university department teaching primarily UK students” faced having a for-profit firm take a substantial stake in its ownership. It comes as news also emerges that the University of York may be looking to create a pathway centre for foreign students in a joint venture with INTO.
The developments may signal that INTO is increasing activity after selling a 25 per cent share last year to New York-based Leeds Equity Partners, which holds a stake in Education Management Corporation, the second-largest US for-profit higher education firm.
Last summer, Gloucestershire’s council approved a plan to place a tender for the business school venture. The university would not comment on the size of the investment sought but it is thought that the money will fund a new building for the school.
In December, the university announced that the business school would be at the heart of a “Growth Hub” for the regional economy to be created by the university and the local enterprise partnership GFirst LEP, with £2.7 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund.
The university, which has a historic debt of £19 million, argues that it must raise external investment if the business school is to drive regional growth. Stephen Marston, Gloucestershire’s vice-chancellor and a former director general for higher education funding and reform at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will report back to the university’s council for a final decision. Hefce has told the university that it must maintain at least a 51 per cent stake in the joint venture, one source said.
A Gloucestershire spokesman said: “The joint venture…we are considering is very much a partnership, but the quality and standards of the academic teaching and the university’s awards will always remain a core responsibility of the university.”
Some staff are worried about what a joint venture with a private provider might mean for pay, pensions and conditions. Ms Hunt said that Gloucestershire was “ignoring the lessons” of for-profit higher education scandals in the US and “putting its reputation on the line, not to mention significant equity”.