Posted tagged ‘BPP’

The last word in new universities?

January 24, 2012

A quarter century ago neither the university for which I now work, nor the one for which I worked until last spring, had university status. And yet, over the years since they were given this status, both have thrived and have in many ways helped to set the agenda for higher education in their countries. It might therefore be argued that the decision to upgrade them was a good one. So does that mean that we should look positively at other proposals for university status?

This is now a significant issue for a number of reasons. In Ireland, as we have discussed here before, there is a growing expectation that the Institutes of Technology in Waterford and Carlow, and also those in Dublin, will become two ‘technological universities’. In England, in what admittedly is now a rather strange world of higher education, there has been a move to accredit private for-profit universities, the first one of which was BPP University College.

Of course what is going on in England is quite different from the ‘technological university’ question in Ireland. But what they both have in common is the question of what criteria should be used to determine any such change of status. In other words, is the term ‘university’ just another word, and is it in fact a restraint of trade to stop any organisation using it? Or could it be justified to restrict its use to academic institutions that have satisfied certain criteria relating to quality and standards? And because we now live in a highly globalized world, can we realistically expect to be able to stop anyone trading as a university, given that all they’ll have to do is find a country somewhere that doesn’t care and lets them set up a virtual operation?

It seems to me that the protection of the designation ‘university’ is vital but in order to do it effectively there needs to be an international consensus. I also believe that the criteria should be based solely on the capacity of the institution to do what universities do, to a high standard; questions about the need for a university in a particular region, or the importance of private competition, shouldn’t enter into it at all.

In the new world of globalised technology-assisted learning and transnational research, universities will play a key role. We should be open to new institutions in this world; but they in turn should continue to be independent bodies seeking to expand knowledge and stimulate critical inquiry.

Privatising higher education

April 26, 2011

From time to time it has been suggested by critics of recent reforms in higher education that university heads want to ‘privatise’ their institutions. Mostly this charge has been without any real foundation. That, however, does not mean that privatisation cannot happen. Indeed, a report in yesterday’s Times newspaper suggests it may become a reality in England much sooner than anyone might have anticipated.

According to the report, the British government is considering handing over ‘failing universities’ in England to private companies to run them. And if you were wondering what that means, the article in the Times suggests that BPP, the private higher education provider, may already have been lined up to undertake this role. The company’s chief executive, Carl Lygo, knows exactly how he would tackle the job, according to the Times:

‘Mr Lygo said that the first step for anyone taking over the management of a university would be to cut or merge functions already covered by its head office, such as finance team, marketing or public relations. He said: “I have looked through some of the university cost base and I think we could probably save them, just on procurement savings alone, 25 per cent of their cost base, which is obviously very interesting to government”.’

If this is really being contemplated, it would be a much more radical change in English higher education than anything that has ever been done before. Its significance would not lie in how much a private company could generate in savings or efficiencies, but rather in the overall understanding of how higher education works and what it is supposed to achieve. However good BPP may be at what it does, it is a training institution, not a university. This would not be a minor change or a new efficiency drive, it would represent a different understanding of the nature and purpose of a university. Even if such a change is right, it requires a much more thorough discussion before it could or should be contemplated.

Interesting times, south of the border. Or maybe scary.

For-profit universities?

July 27, 2010

In an unusual step, the British government has awarded a private, for-profit, institution university level status with its own degree awarding powers. BPP College for Professional Studies, a private London-based college with courses mainly in business and law, will now be called BPP University College. The government may be trying this out as a test case, in anticipation of its apparent policy to have more private institutions involved in higher education.

Perhaps anticipating some criticism of this step, BPP’a Director of MBA programmes has defended the College’s approach to teaching, quality assurance and student support. She also declared herself to be happy with the description of BPP as a ‘sausage factory’. Focusing directly on the students, she argued, and with streamlined processes, BPP may be able to out-manouevre  the traditional public universities, not least because it will not be distracted by the teaching-hostile research traditions of the universities.

All of this is a major departure from normal government policies in these islands to date, in which private and for-proft institutions were given opportunities to develop their own higher education products but under the supervision or control of another degree-awarding body. But now, if we are about to see the arrival of for-profit higher education, we should be thinking through the implications.