How the House of Lords might save us from a Trump University in Britain

Government’s controversial university bill has stormy ride through upper house

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The Higher Education and Research Bill, legislation aimed at creating a more competitive higher education ‘market’, is currently being debated in the House of Lords.

With massive opposition both within and outside parliament, the government’s plans to allow more private-sector involvement and regulatory oversight in higher education might yet be watered down with some crucial amendments put forward — and by the country’s Lords and Ladies no less.

The government argues it can raise teaching standards in higher education by increasing competition. It wants to achieve this by making it easier for providers to get degree-awarding powers and university status.

Critics say the proposals will (among other things) allow these new entrants to set up as so-called ‘universities’ all over the shop. They cite the United States where a competitive market is held responsible for scandals such as the now-defunct Trump University, in relation to which the current president recently paid out $25 million (£20 million) to settle fraud allegations.

The Lords’ amendments seek to underpin what a university actually is and so prevent poor-quality education providers using the term. In summary, the amendments mean that to become a university, a provider will have to demonstrate “implicit ideals of responsibility, engagement and public service” as Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara, Shadow Higher Education Minister in the House of Lords, who led the amendments, put it.

It is not clear whether the amendment will stick, and it is also not the only cause for concern in the bill. There are fears over the Teaching Excellence Framework, metrics system which will ultimately dictate whether a university can raise tuition fees.

Though the government argues that its bill is there to protect consumers — formerly known as ‘students’ — student bodies oppose the bill, and have recently called to boycott the National Student Survey.

Ana Oppenheim from the National Executive Council of the National Union of Students (NUS) told the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts (NACFC):

The Teaching Excellence Framework has nothing to do with teaching quality, and everything to do with fee rises, marketisation and serving the interests of business at the expense of students and staff. The reforms are an attack on the very idea of public education, and we will use any means available to us to fight for its future.

The law degree ‘market’ has already been penetrated by private provision in the UK and provides some useful examples of how difficult the commercial realities of that can be. Only this week, the US conglomerate, Apollo Education, which owns BPP Law School, announced its sale to private equity.

A couple of years ago, the only other private law school in the UK, the University of Law, was sold to Global University Systems (GUS), though no one knows for how much. Originally it had been the College of Law, until that was sold to private equity in 2012 for a cool £200 million.

The bill reaches the Report stage in the House of Lords on 6 March 2017.

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12 Comments

Not Amused

I am a Tory.

However, even I understand that there are and must be, limits on free market economics. In my view a good rule of thumb is to keep business away from old people, young people and the vulnerable.

Young people make choices about university aged 15 to 17. They are at an age when we should be protecting them- not subjecting them to the harsh dishonesty of free market sales and marketing.

I think any move to allow the market in to education is a bad move. I expect more of May and more of the party.

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Anonymous

I don’t know why you expect more of May and the current Tories. Certainly if they were still the responsible party of Disraeli, but they are now simply a bunch of corporate owned whores, selling off everything of value to their business associates.

Labour aren’t significantly more reliable, before you turn to that angle. But at least they care somewhat about the citizens of the country. For the Tories, profit is everything. The MPs are driven by the ideology that private is always better, and any concept of morality or pragmatism goes out of the window in pursuit of that.

I can at least accept that some people agree with them. It’s the Ines who truly believe that the Tories are responsible stewards of education and the NHS that I can’t fathom. Their track record has been to ruin both – how can you possibly expect the opposite from them?

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Anonymous Coward

Although I agree with the sentiment, the idea that 800 unelected appointed political cronies answerable to no-one on £300 a day are a vital second chamber in UK parliamentary democracy is abhorrent.

**** the house of lords.

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Pantman

We need some kind of check on the government, that doesn’ rely upon an election every five years (ie we shouldn’t have to wait five years for someone to do something about it). While the current situation is not ideal, there aren’t any other proposals for that check on the table.

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Katie King

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Anonymous

It has got to be that one from the student unsuccessfully chasing a training contract who said he’d have been better off cleaning windows. You know the one who slagged off the Weightmanns partner and wouldn’t take a high street TC as it was below him?

It was brilliant, you removed it though. . .

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