University business development looks to private and international sources
UK universities are shifting attention from their traditional role of educating home students towards private and international provision, according to a survey of vice-chancellors and administrative heads.
The Quiet Revolution: How Strategic Partnerships and Alliances are Reshaping the Higher Education System, a report by PA Consulting Group, has found that 42 per cent of institutions have "substantial" arrangements with private education companies.
Mike Boxall, co-author of the report, said that while universities were not looking to "walk away from public higher education", they were concentrating their business development on international activity and private education.
"What's happening is that universities are quietly getting on with new partnerships that are allowing them to grow their non-traditional business," he said.
Almost three-quarters of respondents say that their institution has relationships with industry or commercial organisations that will transform the "direction, revenues or operations" of the university and its partners.
Eighty-eight per cent have similar alliances with overseas institutions.
Mr Boxall explained that commercial arrangements could include the type set up with firms such as INTO University Partnerships or the Cambridge Education Group, which feed international students on to undergraduate programmes following preparatory courses run by the companies.
Other institutions had struck joint research deals with firms and were designing courses together, he said.
Another option was to have companies sponsor students through university, circumventing caps on undergraduate numbers, Mr Boxall explained. For example, the auditing firm KPMG runs a programme where it funds school leavers to complete accountancy courses at Durham University and the University of Exeter.
The report also reveals that while 87 per cent of respondents in 2011 believed that private providers would pose "significant competition", this year the figure is 72 per cent.
"Private providers haven't [grown] as fast or [been] as detrimental to the...traditional players as they thought," Mr Boxall said.
Paul Woodgates, the report's other author, said that the "buying-up of failing universities" anticipated by some had not materialised.
Instead, state-funded universities were exploring what they might be able to learn from the private sector, he said. For example, 78 per cent of respondents think there will be a trend towards "no-frills" low-cost provision, a 21 percentage point increase on 2011.
The report, which is based on 95 responses, also finds that nine in 10 university leaders predict a "dramatic polarisation" of the sector between a small "super league" of research-intensive universities and a growing number of low-cost institutions.
Some respondents see the emergence of a two-tier system as an "unintended and damaging" consequence of combined government policies, the report says.
This article first appeared in Times Higher Education. Please click here to read the article on the THE website.
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