BPP College of Professional Studies in London Gains Government Status

Alisha Labi, A For-Profit College is the First of Its Kind to Gain Special Government Status in Britain, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 22, 2010, available at http://chronicle.com/article/A-For-Profit-College-Gains-/124097/.

In July, David Willits, the minister who oversees universities in Britain, conferred the title of university college, roughly equivalent to an American community college, on the BPP College of Professional Studies, the first British for-profit institution to be awarded that distinction. The impact was immediate, with a doubling of traffic to BPP’s website and a dramatic increase in phone inquiries to the institution, prompting hiring of additional staff and extending its weekend hours to meet the increased demand.

In Britain, a higher than ever demand for university admissions coupled with the new government’s drastic cuts in public financing have meant that universities are increasingly unable to meet demand. Amid predictions that as many as 127,000 students were unable to secure a spot for this academic year, a growing number of these students are considering nontraditional alternatives, including the options offered by BPP and Britain’s handful of other private higher-education institutions.

British higher education has long been dominated by the state. In recent years, however, the country has augmented public subsidies of higher education by raising tuition, which was introduced in 1998. An independent study of how higher education is financed is widely expected to recommend further increasing, or even removing, the cap on tuition when it is released this autumn. The new coalition government has made clear that change is in the air and that private institutions could soon be playing a much bigger role in Britain’s higher-education landscape.

The University and College Union, Britain’s main faculty union, has led the opposition to for-profit institutions. A union spokesman says that its policy position is “that access to education should be free,” meaning that it objects to for-profit universities “on principle.” But as private institutions have gained a foothold, the union has reluctantly recognized that they are an increasingly significant part of the educational landscape.

American for-profit universities seeking to expand internationally are watching these developments in Britain with great interest.

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