Advice for parents about the career options for their children

Private higher education providers


With tuition fees set at around £9000 per year, students are faced with some difficult choices. Traditional universities offering the total student package; clubs, sports facilities, activities and a strong social network, or a scaled-down version from a private institution sometimes offering solely the degree programme that you signed up for, but sometimes at a reduced or comparable cost and with a possibly faster completion time.

In some cases, the actual teaching and tutor/student contact are key factors, with private degree awarding institutions often providing smaller class sizes, more personal one to one tuition and a more attentive staff.

The private higher education sector remains dedicated to providing high-quality tuition, subject choice as well as value for money, in many cases delivered in a real-world' environment, allowing students to develop key employability skills along the way. 

Applying to a private institution can be as straightforward as to a mainstream university. In most cases, you are still able to apply through the UCAS system and your degree of choice will still be eligible for a student loan, with tuition fees surprisingly low in some instances, due to the lack, or removal of, said 'additions' such as tennis courts, clubs and accommodation. In other situations, degree programmes can be worked at in real time, without academic breaks, allowing for a two calendar year degree achievement.

But what exactly is meant by a "private" university?

Perhaps the simplest definition is that of an institution that does not benefit from public funding, unlike traditional universities that receive government grants for both teaching and research.

However the dramatic shift from teaching grants to tuition fee income at mainstream universities means that the differences between public and private institutions are narrowing quickly.

The cut in teaching grants goes a long way towards creating a level playing-field for private universities, which rely almost entirely on fee income.

So who are these private providers?

Some providers are classed as 'for profit'. These are mainly institutions which are run by US education companies that have either bought into degree awarding institutions in theUKor who are working in collaboration with public universities. Other providers are run as charities or classed as not for profit.

At the moment there are five private providers that have their own UK degree-awarding powers -Buckingham University, the College of Law, IFS School of Finance, Ashridge Business School and BPP University College.

In 2010, BPP University College became the first for-profit provider to be granted university college status in theUKand is owned by a US-based company, the Apollo Group, which paid £368m for it in 2009.

There are many more private providers that offer non-UK degrees, however. These include up to 70 overseas universities based in the UK, mainly American universities, teaching US nationals on study-abroad programmes.

Some of these institutions recruit UK students and, from 2012, brought their fees in line with the £9,000 to be charged by most English universities.

Richmond American International University, for example, charges £9,500 for UK undergraduates for degree courses which are validated by both theUS education system as well as the Open University here in the UK.

Regent's College, based in London offers undergraduate, liberal arts degrees to UK students with annual tuition fees of around £13,000.

A number of UK students at both of these universities are already eligible for government loans for tuition fees.

Probably the most common model involves private education providers working in partnership with mainstream UK universities.

Kaplan Open Learning, for example, offers undergraduate and professional degrees, taught entirely online mainly to part-time students, and in partnership with Essex University. Kaplan is a for-profit education company owned by the Washington Post Company.

The increase of US-style private higher education has been criticised by the University and College Union (UCU), which says it will drive up fees and bring dependence on unstable capital markets.

Its 2010 report, Privatising Our Universities, stated that US college tuition has increased at four times the rate of inflation over 25 years.

Government Ministers hope that a free-market system would increase student choice while the UCU stressed that a US type model could lead to "rampant grade inflation and other downwards pressures on academic standards".

The think-tank Policy Exchange however, welcomes the developments, and has argued for policy changes to create a more level playing-field for private operators.

These changes include allowing private institutions to be eligible for government grants, making it easier for them to attain UK degree-awarding powers, permission for them to use the title "university", and extending eligibility for government loans to more of their students.

Currently undergraduates at institutions that are not funded by the government are eligible for tuition fee loans of up to £6,000 a year, provided that their courses were "designated" by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).