Magazine article Times Higher Education

Burns Notice on For-Profit Plans

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Burns Notice on For-Profit Plans

Article excerpt

NUS president tells Jack Grove that taxpayers will baulk at paying shareholders for ill-judged reforms.

Ministers face a public backlash unless they heed warnings about for- profit universities and colleges, the president of the National Union of Students has said.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Liam Burns said that the coalition government risked widespread anger once taxpayers realised that public funds would go into the hands of private companies via subsidised student loans.

"The fight that David Willetts is going to have very soon is one that says: 'Our universities are not for sale,'" he predicted. "The idea that private (providers) are going to walk in and take public funding with no extra scrutiny will fall flat.

"I think there will be an NHS moment when people realise: 'Hang on, what do you mean we are giving public money to bodies (that) are explicitly about their shareholders and profits?'"

Almost 500,000 people signed a petition last year against the government's Health and Social Care bill. Health professionals and unions warned that the NHS reforms would allow private firms to "cherry-pick" profitable areas of treatment, risking the future of local hospitals.

The bill was eventually passed by the House of Commons last September after a three-month "listening exercise" and significant changes.

Mr Burns questioned why the universities and science minister wanted to make radical changes to the UK academy.

"We have got arguably one of the best university systems in the world. …

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