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By Peter Hoskin
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Bongos,
Gibraltar and Mark Carney – all three have set the printing presses roaring today.
But there’s another significant story in the newspapers that is altogether less
conspicuous. It’s this one in
the Independent
about a new profit-making university. According to the paper, David
Willetts has welcomed it as “an important step towards increasing the diversity
of the higher education sector”. He adds: “A wider range of higher education
providers helps broaden access, focuses attention on teaching quality and
promotes innovative learning methods.”  

It’s
worth setting out the bare facts about this university, for clarity’s sake. It
was originally a college, with branches across the country, specialising in
law, business and various other professions, that was operated by the private
company BPP Holdings. When it was granted degree-awarding powers in 2007 it
changed its name to BPP University College of Professional Studies. But it’s
only now that it’s achieved full university status according to the Business
Department’s criteria
. After
registering with Companies House on Tuesday, it became the second for-profit
university in the country, after the University of Law last year. It is now
officially called BPP University.


Why
is this so significant? Because it could be the first movement of a wholesale
shift in higher education in this country – and not just because other
for-profit companies will probably establish universities, too. BPP University,
you see, isn’t bound by the Government’s £9,000 tuition fee cap and various
other strictures. It can set its fees at whatever level it chooses. That is has
set them at £5,000-a-year is beside the point: other universities, who worry
that the currently funding arrangements will hamper
their research capabilities
, will look on BPP’s example with interest. It
could be another spur to make them go it alone, and charge whatever makes
financial sense to them.

And it’s also significant in a broader sense. As
I’ve noted
before
, this Parliament already features several high-profile exercises in
profit-making, such as Hinchingbrooke Hospital and IES Breckland. Now two
universities can be numbered alongside them. This, as evidenced by the unions’ response
today, will be divisive. Indeed, it’s likely to be a point of contention at the
next election.

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