The UK Government's proposed Higher Education Bill, which, among other things, makes it easy for For-Profit Universities to get degree-granting status, is expected to face steep opposition at the House of Lords (see this story). This is a long-awaited move, and many For-Profit operators, primarily from the US who are having a terrible time at home, are looking forward to this bill. UK Higher Education has a global reputation - arguably an average UK university is better regarded globally than an average US university - and being able to grant an UK degree is indeed a big prize when mass Higher Education is expanding so rapidly in Asia and Africa. Now, one could regard the House of Lords' stance as a retrograde one, and see this as a battle of entitlements - a few privileged people, retired academics among them, fighting for their corner, but this will be a mistake. The expansion of For-Profit Universities is likely to affect UK Higher Education - its effectiveness at home and its reputation abroad - negatively, and therefore, the concerns of the House of Lords is perfectly legitimate.
It is hard to see why the Government wants For-Profit Universities in the UK. Other countries allowed a private Not-for-Profit or For-Profit universities to set up in order to cope up with demands of an expanding Higher Education system. However, UK's student numbers in Higher Education is likely to DECREASE, at least till 2020, and even its long term projection is one of a small increase. Its Gross Enrollment Ratio is already quite high, and graduate unemployment rate is quite low. It also has a large and mature skills training sector, which provides opportunities for young people to pursue vocational and technical career paths. It is hard to justify plans for a sudden expansion of the sector by infusion of private investment as some other countries have done.
The Government's case for For-Profit universities is based on COMPETITION. As a justification, this is not very original. The ideologues may think only For-Profit opertaors can introduce competition in an otherwise stagnant sector, but anyone with more familiarity will know that the business of running an university today is anything but. Many UK universities are on visible parts of various ranking tables, and the top ones are constantly competiting with the very best in the world. While the university sector may have problems that need solving, lack of competitiveness is not one of them.
Another reason why Governments generally like For-Profits is EFFICIENCY, the assumption that market competition drives these institutions - for themselves as well as for the Sector as a whole - to innovate for efficiency, as in lower costs and better outcomes. But, looking at For-Profit track record, this has hardly been the case. In fact, in a setting where the Government funds the students, either through grants or subsidised loans, the For-Profits usually drive up the fees. The only efficiency For-Profits can reasonably claim credits for are in marketing and sales - queuing up in McDonald's to sell to the unsuspecting servers the unsustainable dreams of an office job, for example - and their models are usually based on moving costs away from delivery and more into sales, because that is the common-sense way of maximising profits. And, one does not have to look for American examples to predict the havoc For-Profit can wreck: This government's very own experience with student loans in its initial days, as recently as 2013, led to those recruitment bureaus at supermarkets, aimed at elderly and minority students who were enrolled with the lure of 'maintenance grants' and who dropped out of the course after they bought their shoes and handbags, never bothering to pay student loans as they were 'income contingent'.
I must own up that I did argue for diversity of the sector in previous posts, particularly for the sake of INNOVATION in terms of technology and curriculum. Because the For-Profits, when they are allowed to operate within a sector with established, state funded, institutions, try to differentiate themselves in terms of curriculum and the way it is delivered, they have, in the past, introduced newer areas of study and newer modes of learning in the sector. These are historical examples, but For-Profits often created or took the lead in Book-keeping and Management, Medical Schools, Distance Learning and Online Education and more established universities only later caught up with these. This may not be the case Government is making, but it is possible to argue that For-Profit Higher Ed would introduce newer ideas in the UK Higher Ed sector. Unlike competition by itself, innovation and new ideas about the institutional purpose and format are indeed in short supply in UK Higher Education, as is expected in a tradition-bound, process driven sector operating in a sellers' market. However, one could argue that incentives for such innovation can be created by focusing, through regulatory and raking mechanisms, on employment outcomes of the students - how quickly they got a job and what starting salaries - which is already very much the case in the UK. Besides, the innovation in curriculum and methods, historically, has happened in the protean fringe of the For-Profits through trial-and-error, rather than the failsafe and sanitised Corporate For-Profits, which only move after established segments 'that can scale'.
Finally, it is worthwhile to consider the argument from the point of view of For-Profit investors: Whatever the government's justifications may be, how does one see UK For-Profit sector as an attractive opportunity? The recent experiments in For-Profits, one from 2005 powered by easy visas and then one from 2012 fuelled by free-for-all student loans, were unsustainable. The matured markets, decreasing domestic student numbers and caps on International students have proved disastrous for For-Profit projects in general. The case in point is the College of Law, which was bought with an eye-popping £200 million by Montagu Private Equity, became a full-fledged University (they already had degree granting status at the time of the sale), but then could deliver little of the anticipated growth in the declining sector of Law education: It was sold again in 2015, for 'an undisclosed amount', which is the private-equity speak for a 'huge profit', or as in this case, a 'huge loss'. And, while the University of Law, struggling in the legal education, imagined getting into business education would solve the problem, the Pearson College, an entity within the global conglomerate, started with the idea of an innovative format of business education, and saw the panacea in Legal Education as they struggled to win away students from more established business school (despite their billion-dollar brand name). At this current turn of the markets, as economies are facing a long period of uncertainty and low growth, resulting in stagnating demand for lawyers coupled with a global decline of MBA education, it is hard to see why any investor would think setting up an UK For-Profit is a good idea, even if the Government allows an easy path to University status.
I shall argue that at least a part of the answer to this riddle lies in INTERNATIONAL. The UK Degree granting status is attractive to For-Profit institutions primarily for an International play, though the current visa regime rules out an expansion of international student numbers in the UK in any shape or form. The growth of Asian and African economies, the perceived value of an UK Education and increasing prosperity that makes an 'education premium' affordable, are the factors which make UK university licenses attractive to For-Profit providers. And, if we follow this logic, the principal innovation that this new turn in For-Profit education may bring to UK Higher Education sector is an advent of 'dematerialised campuses', not just forms of distance and online education, but perhaps 'non-teaching' universities, which are really franchise owners of UK degrees who does not play, or only play a minor role, in the delivery of education. This is not new - in fact, UK universities have been quite good with franchising their courses - but one may see this to become the principal business of some of the new universities.
The 'dematerialised campus' is the new utopia sweeping For-Profit education, but this does not work. Those who hold this world-view operates with two assumptions: First, that we are at a moment of a 'globalisation apocalypse', that the world is becoming 'flat' and all markets are becoming 'similar' or moving towards the higher, Western, forms of business; and, second, they believe that they are operating in a vacuum, nothing of the cultures, practices and institutions in the growing African and Asian economies have any value, and they will be swept aside the moment their regulatory structures crumble under the weight of market reforms. The reality, however, is very different. The growing economies, as they find their feet, are increasingly looking to build their own Higher Ed capacity and even mental models. The story of international student movements, university ranking tables and global research patents and educational innovations, was not one of Anglo-American dominance, but a much greater variety coming into play, with diversity of innovation and a range of regional centres developing. The UK Higher Education, with its tradition, high standards cosmopolitan communities and reputation of integrity stand to profit from this new alignment: This needs a cultural transformation from the inside, for sure, but the ideas are already there. But a new scramble, led by For-Profits as it will invariably be if they are unrestrained and empowered, would undermine the UK Higher Ed (as some of the misadventures of its universities did earlier) both by destroying the fabric of UK's regulatory structures and by unleashing on the world a new rapacious education imperialism whose time has clearly passed.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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 was gui
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
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, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
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
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
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.