The For-Profit Debate: An Essay in Progress
However, in the United States, when the For-Profit Higher Education has shown remarkable growth in the last forty years, there is a growing body of research and literature in the functioning of For-Profit Higher Education Institutions. While undeniably the growth of the For-Profit institutions in the US is deeply connected to a uniquely American Higher Education system, the trends and trajectories of its development are instructive. While proprietary colleges existed in the US for a long time, its rapid growth were set off by the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, which allowed students intending to study at For-Profit institutions to be eligible for federal student loans (commonly known as ‘Pell Grants’). A parallel development was set off in the UK recently by the Browne Review (2010), which transformed the system of Higher Education funding from one based on institutional grants to a system of student loans, and allowed For-Profit institutions to compete for it, which led to a significant restructuring of the For-Profit sector in the UK, and a rapid expansion of some of the institutions. In the light of these parallel trends, the literature from across the pond is both useful and instructive.
'I don't know anything about them.'
'The examinations, of course, have to be rather simple - within the capacity of the tutors. (There is an excellent public library here.) And another thing - the fees are returnable if the diploma-degree not granted.'
'Nobody will ever fail', Mr Priskett brought breathlessly out with scared excitement."
However, despite the ongoing consolidation of the sector, and the infusion of new capital, it is still unclear whether these changes will result in a sector fit to deliver the efficiency that the policy makers are looking for. The claim that ownership by a larger corporate body rather than individual proprietors result in greater efficiency and more publicly spirited institution stands rather battered by the findings of the recent Congressional investigations in United States, which portrayed a picture of a largely fly-by-night sector afflicted with the problems of predatory selling and flawed economics maintained on a life-support by subsidized student loans. The below-par graduation rates and above-average student loan default rates made some observers identify this sector as the source of a new sub-prime debt crisis there. In light of these observations, an inquiry into the structure and functioning of For-Profit Higher Education in Britain become more significant, as an increasing amount of public money gets diverted into the For-Profit institutions.
The government has farmed out the responsibility of ensuring efficiency in the For-Profit Higher Education institutions to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA); the underlying assumption is that gaining 'Confidence' from QAA will put For-Profit institutions at par with its Public sector counterparts, and thereafter, they could be expected to do the same job.
In order to achieve an understanding, therefore, this essay would explore the differences between the Public, Not-For-Profit and For-Profit models, as only the understanding of such difference can help construct a picture of the For-Profit operations and critically explore how it can fulfil its public role. A review of literature, and further exploration based on author’s own experience, highlight three major themes, across which such differences can be studied:
What Teachers Do: There is also a fundamental difference between these different kinds of institutions in how they perceive teaching activities. The traditional Not-for-Profit institutions evolved out of teaching communities (or individual teachers), and most of the conversations around universities, notwithstanding the current bureaucratic avatar of a public university, are about academic freedom and community. However, For-Profits are industrial form of organizations where the teachers are, among others, tools of production. The usual just-in-time thinking would usually mean pre-dominance of non-tenured teachers on hourly contract, with attendant limitations on creativity and commitment. Treating teachers as resources, For-Profits operate to extract the teaching time as efficiently as possible, but so far, this meant botched application of scientific management techniques (because teaching is very unlike factory work, and more like performance art) into organizing teaching.
Educational Objectives: For-Profits often operate with the assumption that creation and delivery of knowledge can be separated, something completely antithetical to the founding faith of modern Higher Education. The allure of no-frills teaching, something that the institutions proudly proclaim and policy-makers directly or indirectly endorse, is strong, but this essentially changes the role of knowledge in Higher Education.
As the above observations suggest, there are important contradictions at the heart of the claims of the For-Profit institutions in terms of expanding educational capacity, being teaching centric and offering better instruction and equipping graduates better for a career. In the following paragraphs, this essay will explore the For-Profit Higher Education institutions along these three axes, and look in greater depth the evolution of the UK For-Profit institutions in each of these areas. Finally, and speculatively, a projection will be attempted to chart the course of future development of the sector.
This is an essay in progress, purported to be part of a longer work on For-Profits. I am posting this online to generate conversation and any feedback will be welcome.