UCU warns on University privatisation

Demonstration last May supporting London Metropolitan University unions’ fight against job cuts
Demonstration last May supporting London Metropolitan University unions’ fight against job cuts

The University and College Union (UCU) has warned universities and colleges to think very carefully before entering into partnerships with private firms.

This is after new research showed that every single joint venture between the private company INTO University Partnerships and its partner university or college made a loss in 2007-08 – according to the most recent figures available.

The five joint ventures between INTO and UK institutions, covered in the most recent accounts at Companies House, made a combined loss of nearly £3.5m.

Those partnerships, including one at Exeter University where incoming Universities UK (UUK) president Steve Smith is vice-chancellor, are based on a 50-50 ownership basis.

The union further discovered that Andrew Colin, the sole shareholder of INTO University Partnerships had, up to 31 July 2008, lent the company £5.5m in the form of interest free loans repayable on demand.

According to the accounts, Andrew Colin lent INTO University Partnerships £1,420,477 in the form of an interest free loan repayable on demand.

He also lent the company £4,074,101 in the form of an interest free loan, repayable on demand, through the company AJC Holdings Ltd, of which he is the director and sole shareholder.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt said: ‘These figures are incredibly worrying for those institutions who rushed to embrace private money and those who are considering doing so.

‘But it is even more worrying for the staff who were transferred by their previous university employers.

‘It is high time university vice-chancellors, including incoming UUK president Steve Smith, faced up to their responsibilities for staff who face an increasingly insecure future.

‘The overseas student market is of vital importance to UK higher education, not an add-on to be hived off to the highest bidder, and the same is true of the excellent staff who teach the students.

‘We have consistently warned that universities embarking on these partnerships were gambling with their reputations and with staff jobs.

‘Given the worrying losses, we call on universities and colleges to review the use of all partnerships with the private sector.’

The latest company accounts for INTO University Partnerships were filed at Companies House on 29 May 2009, for the year up to 31 July 2008.

The accounts show that:

• INTO University Partnerships made a loss of £1,173,239.

• The company’s joint ventures made a combined loss of £3,337,466.

The losses recorded by the joint ventures with universities and colleges were:

• INTO University of East Anglia/INTO UEA LLP made a loss for year of £36,000.

• INTO University of Exeter LLP made a loss of £723,583.

• INTO Newcastle university LLP made a loss for the year of £941,621.

• INTO Scotland LLP (a joint venture with Glasgow Caledonian University) made a loss of £212,923.

• INTO Manchester Ltd (a joint venture with The Manchester College, formerly with City College Manchester) made a loss for the year of £1,423,339.

The joint venture with The Manchester College has now dissolved, with the college selling its stake to INTO.

Meanwhile, some of England’s most prestigious universities, including Oxbridge, have said they do not want their share of 10,000 additional student places.

The government has announced that it is allowing the extra undergraduates to be recruited in subjects important to the economy.

The Higher education funding council (Hefce) is allocating them according to how many such students institutions already have: two get more than 300.

But six universities have said they want fewer, and 13 say they want none at all.

The 13 that have declined the offer are: Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Leeds, Liverpool, London Metropolitan University, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, University College London and Warwick.

Eleven of the 13 belong to the Russell Group of leading research intensive universities, which has 16 English members in all.

In a statement, its director general, Dr Wendy Piatt, said: ‘Maintaining quality is sacrosanct and the Russell Group is concerned about underfunded extra students – there is already a funding shortfall for teaching at our universities.’

The government is providing funding for the additional students’ tuition fee loans and maintenance grants, so universities will get their fees, but universities will get nothing for teaching them.

Hefce said: ‘To assure maximum take-up of the places, we informally approached institutions with a large initial share to see if they were able to take these up.

‘For a variety of reasons, a number of institutions indicated that they cannot take up their share and have asked that their additional places be re-distributed so that they are available elsewhere.

‘We have already distributed these numbers pro rata across the sector.’

The 10,000 new places for 2009-10 are for full-time undergraduates in subject areas that will support the government’s New Industry, New Jobs policy.

l The University and College Union (UCU) on Sunday welcomed calls from a committee of MPs to introduce a simple national bursary scheme for students.

The union also welcomed the committee’s call for a full proper review of university tuition fees.

Responding to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee’s report on students and universities, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt said: ‘UCU is delighted the committee has backed our call for one simple national bursary scheme for students.’

The National Union of Students (NUS) has also backed the report.

NUS President Wes Streeting said: ‘NUS has long campaigned for a national bursary scheme.

‘The complex and hugely variable market in bursaries has done little to promote fair access to elite universities.

‘We believe a radical overhaul of the student support system is needed so that financial support is based on how students need, rather than where they happen to be studying.’