New university college - sign of things to come

26 Jul 2010

The granting of university college status to BPP is an interesting sign of radical changes ahead for higher education in the UK. It lends status to the offshoot of a huge US-based, for-profit  company that is looking to expand in Europe. 

 This is the first time that university college status has been awarded to a private provider since the creation of Buckingham University College (later Buckingham University) in 1976.

 BPP is part of the Apollo Group, a market-listed US company which owns and operates the University of Phoenix, a private university in the USA which offers degrees through distance-learning. 

In 2004, the University of Phoenix was fined $9.8 million by the US government for unethical practices in recruiting students.  At the time, the Apollo Group denied any wrongdoing.

BPP College of Professional Studies runs law, business and accountancy courses at several sites in the UK. It says it now plans to expand into other areas, providing a wider range of courses. 

It focuses particularly on postgraduate vocational courses,  where students pay high fees which are often subsidised by, for example, law firms sponsoring new entrants. However many students pay their own fees.

The growth of private providers will pose a challenge to public-sector universities that run the full range of courses. The loss of lucrative post-graduate students to colleges like BPP would, in particular, affect the bottom-line at many institutions . 

If BPP University College expands at anything like the pace of the University of Phoenix the UK won't know what has hit it. Starting in 1976, Phoenix now has a staggering 476,000 students currently enrolled on its courses. 

However Phoenix -  which provides part-time distance-learning to many low-income, federally-supported undergraduates - aims at a rather different market than BPP. Phoenix has been controversial and has faced criticism over its academic standards.

The University of Phoenix has often been the subject of media investigations but it has rejected  many of the media claims made against it. See, for example:

User Comments

Newell - 26 Jul 2010

An interesting development

It's very interesting to see that BPP has been granted ascension to University College status, particularly as all the foundation work to get the college up to the standards required for such status was done long before Apollo got involved-in fact, if I am correct, BPP was purchased long after the applications for degree awarding powers was submitted but before the decision was made.

Having previously worked for a competitor of BPP I always saw them (prior to the take over) as the leaders of the market; they could charge higher fees than the rest and offer a far better service as others fought on the low ground through price competition and-in some cases-trying to silence or spin damning student reviews. This was why I saw BPP as a perfect example of how a college should be run in the private sector and I was concerned at the Apollo Group's take-over.

This concern was mainly based on the thought that, knowing University of Phoenix as I do, Apollo may be tempted to start a price competition strategy that the other, arguably smaller colleges were using which could damage their standing and ability to provide for their students.

So far, to an outsider, this appears not to have happened but I will be interested in seeing what does happen once/if BPP becomes a fully fledged university. I have a feeling Apollo have bought BPP under the assumption that it will and are not interfering so as not to damage this process.

The question I have in my mind is what will happen when the process is successfully completed? Will we see Apollo taking a more direct approach and realigning BPP to the Phoenix model? If so, what could the repercussions be to the process and to the QAA as a whole?

I’ll be interested in keeping an eye on this story in the years to come.

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