2012 is set to be a defining year for private sector colleges in the UK. To start with, most of them will disappear. Traditionally, the sector thrived on international students: They charged one-third of the fees that an university will charge the international students, and weened away the market from them. But the UK government effectively killed this market, for now. A set of abrupt changes in the student visa regime, whose burden fell disproportionately on the private colleges, have deeply affected the market. Many private colleges have already found it impossible to keep going and folded: Others have been out in the market in search of a buyer, and holding on to find one. The Private Equity players are out in the market buying private colleges on the cheap, with a strategy of bundling them together and selling these on when the 'real' payday for private sector education - predicted to be around 2015 - comes.
This change is good in a way. At the end of this cycle, the ownership and management structures of the industry will certainly change. The owner-operator would give way to the professional manager, and relationships will mostly be replaced by rules: Just like the universities. The unsavoury corners of the sector - the visa colleges - will possibly close, or morph into something else. The prices will generally rise, as the new Private Equity owners will demand, and the operating practises will become just like the universities, as the new regulatory regime will demand and impose.
Some of the colleges that survive this year in their current form, as the bigger ones possibly will, must choose their strategy carefully. While the profile of the sector will generally rise and student confidence will be regained, being like the universities may not be the smartest thing to do for a private college. They exist for a purpose - that of offering education in the under-served market segments - and they would need to stick to that. This will need will and innovation, and strategies that go beyond copy-and-paste, and sticking to their original purpose.
Which goes beyond making money, as would be generally suspected. There are at least two other motives plainly visible among the college owners: First, many of them came from a teaching background and wanted to do better teaching within an environment they create and control, and second, they came from an ethnic minority background and wanted to meet the specific needs of their communities, often of the ones back home. Indeed, an university reviewer may complain that these colleges didn't do any research, but they were not meant to do that anyway and this does not necessarily make a private college education meaningless. The cacophony of dialects in these classrooms, and predominance of alien faces in the corridors only indicate an opportunity, not the existence of something illegal.
Even in this difficult environment, the surviving private colleges must remember these 'founding principles' if it could be called that. They may have been less articulate in general, but the more successful private colleges were based on the belief that 'extraordinary possibilities exist in ordinary people'. One risk of trying to follow the universities too closely is to get into the 'ranking creep', an ever-upward spiral of cost and selectivity that may make private colleges irrelevant. The pressures to fall into this trap will be enormous: The reviewing agencies will demand it, the accrediting universities, somewhat jealous of the success of private colleges, will try to impose it, and the existing stereotypes of higher education will mandate it. However, the ideas of good teaching, open access and groundedness in community as appropriate in the global era may sound alien to public universities, whose values have changed because of the tyranny of the funding bureaucracies, but they have been consistent and universal requirements for successful independent colleges through the ages. It will only be common sense for the UK private colleges to stick to this even when everything changes around them.
This will be worth it, because, despite the current mood, the market is not going to disappear. The Tory government has put ideology ahead of common sense - as governments usually do - but common sense always wins in the end. This is a rapidly globalised world, where consumption is being driven by Asian consumers: Closing British Education to them is equivalent to banning them from shopping in Oxford Circus. And, the British universities, run by executives who are adept at playing the perks-and-privileges game with government bureaucrats, have no sense of the changing international markets: For most of them, it means an annual trip to exotic places, and a mid-afternoon shopping trip in search of cheap deals. To them, international students are the faceless undemanding lot, who pays an exorbitant fee just for the privilege of being taught by an Anglo-Saxon professor. In summary, despite their numerical success (64% growth in the last decade and expansion of outreach facilities), they have served the privileged classes, and want to continue to do so. They are oblivious that there is another market, a fast-growing and huge one, where the manners and dress sense of the prospective pupils are less refined, English scratchier, and qualifications less than pristine, but which is not short in aspiration, ability to hard work or in the will to win the world. These students are not going to go away anywhere, and the Private colleges will find a way to continue to serve them.
Indeed, the private colleges will have to change their strategy, and surely they will. There are a number of things these college owners are planning or talking about.
First, there is increasing talk about effective association and self-regulation. This will soon happen: With the 'bogus' colleges being forced out of the sector, this is becoming easier to achieve. This may happen towards the end of the year, when the survivors and losers have been sorted out. However, this will go beyond what seems to be the holy grail of quality systems at this time, confidence from Quality Assurance Agency: The self-regulation and quality standards of private colleges have to be much more businesslike and exceed those of the universities and publicly funded colleges through invention of new standards and benchmarks.
Second, in the transformed marketplace, the good private colleges will differentiate themselves through good teaching. This is a shift away from the fetish about the curriculum, where everyone seemed to be after more courses from more university partners, and this led to a proliferation of courses and subjects in the college catalogues. In many a sense, the shrinking market forces a rethink, for good reason, and may mean return to the basics, good teaching focused on lean curricula.
Third, though there is talk about servicing the 'home' market, fuelled by the fact that every year more than 250,000 students do not get an university place, the private colleges will remain focused on the emerging segments of the international markets. The reason for this is that the home market is largely illusory: The 250,000 students that get left out get absorbed by other training programmes or opportunities. Besides, these students don't get an university place because of structural inefficiencies of the system, which the government is desperate to address. And, finally, the population boom that is contributing to the students being left out will now level out, and the number should come close to zero by 2015. On the other hand, the 'new middle classes' in Asia and Africa will arrive at a furious pace, expanding by more than 30% a year for next decade or so. Private investment, forever efficient in search of opportunity, will always remain focused on this rather than slugging it out for the bottom-end of what is actually a fairly small market. In an age of contracting visa numbers, this may mean increasing focus on remote delivery, either through overseas campuses or online delivery or both, but innovation in this area will be key to sustenance and success of private colleges.
Fourth, the innovation in delivery models and quality standards will also require the private colleges to rethink their approach to global engagements. The universities have traditionally operated through an agency model, and this was copied by private colleges in the past. This led to good business, but the full costs of these practises are only now coming to light. This is forcing a rethink, and soon we shall see different models of engagement, pooled in admission tests and scholarships, partnerships across borders and progression agreements come into play.
Finally, the private colleges will need to find a new label. After all the mud thrown at the sector over the last few years, the surviving colleges will need to redefine themselves as, perhaps, 'independent' colleges, i.e., not dependent on government handouts. In that sense, 2012 may become the year of independence for the sector: That will bode well for British Higher Education.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.