The Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) has warned of the dangers posed to higher education by opening the sector to private providers without adequate scrutiny. There is a real risk, it says, that the loosening of controls proposed by government could result in an influx of Trump University-style providers in the UK.

In a response to the government’s consultation about the role of the Office for Students (OfS), the new body regulating higher education from 2018, the CDBU highlights concerns that commercial providers will rush in to provide low quality, less academic courses offering poor value – something that has already happened in the US.

While the CDBU agrees with the importance of widening access, it does not believe that the way to do this is through removing the barriers for new providers, as outlined in the OfS’s proposed regulatory framework.

The CDBU’s response notes that there are already disturbing reports of new providers who offer low quality courses in a range of subjects, flooding the market with young people whose qualifications are not valued. Professor Dorothy Bishop, a spokesperson for the CDBU, said: “The parallels with Trump University in the USA are clear. The OfS must zealously protect students from those with a purely commercial interest in higher education, who could exploit them, pocket the money from student loans, and provide worthless qualifications. Rather than lowering barriers, there needs to be stringent scrutiny of those wishing to enter the market.”

In a wide-ranging response, the CDBU also took issue with the government’s proposal to make participation in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) compulsory for providers with more than 500 students. “TEF commands very little confidence in the academic profession, and the metrics it uses have little to do with the quality of teaching,” said Bishop. “There is a real risk that differentiating between universities by allocating gold, silver and bronze awards could undermine the market position of excellent institutions by implying that British higher education does not deserve its traditionally high reputation.”

Rather than using flawed metrics to improve teaching, the CDBU believes the OfS should turn its attention to the use of casual teaching staff in universities. While some of these staff may do a good job, anecdotal evidence indicates that students do less well when taught by someone who may cover only a small part of a course, does not know the students well, and is not integrated into the academic community of the institution.

The CDBU’s full response to the OfS consultation can be read here.

Notes to editors:

  1. The CDBU was founded in 2012 by a wide range of concerned academics and public figures to campaign for the independence of UK universities and to resist the creeping marketization of higher education.
  2. The OfS is a new regulator for higher education, replacing two previous regulators: the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). At the end of last year, the government launched a consultation on the OfS’s role.

For more information, please contact Kim Thomas at kimthomas@ntlworld.com or 01707 332574.