Private For-Profit Arriving Near You
The New Year looks set to see more controversies in the continuing development of private for-profit colleges, universities and programs. The US is already embroiled in a fierce debate as to whether any more Federal dollars and budgets should go to any for-profit institutions; whereas supporters of these institutions say that the tax-payer can no longer afford ‘traditional’ publicly funded colleges and universities.
Of course the counter arguments to new ‘for-profit’ developments are those relating to quality and ‘value’. Already in the US there are almost continual media stories of failing or inadequate quality standards in some private provision. The picture around the world shows that the debate about private and for-profit will continue.
Reasons for Growth
The reasons for the growth of private for-profit colleges seems to vary around the world. In Central and Eastern Europe there was a profound shortage of higher education places after the collapse of the Soviet Pact economies, a mistrust of government organisations and a lack of innovation and creativity.
In most developing countries the private sector is filling a gap in the lack of numbers of university and higher education places; as well as an inability of governments to afford the necessary investment. It is often a case of ‘schools before universities’, with an attitude that some private colleges maybe below standard but are better than nothing.
In some areas religious and cultural attitudes are often leading to higher education institutions designed for one faith group in particular; and sometimes a specific group within that faith. Similarly, countries seeking a rapid expansion of provision such as India are also encouraging private investment and management within higher education.
The assumption that private higher education is growing fastest in developing and emerging economies is also laid to rest with the US experience. Similarly, the UK Government is busily introducing legislation that will allow for full-scale private investment in universities and colleges; despite there being no expressed political will for this (and quite an amount of public hostility). Already some 500 senior British academics have expressed their opposition to private involvement in public universities
More choice versus standards
So what will private universities and colleges look like around the world in the next few years? In short, the variety and type of institution and course or program will be immense. There will be far more variety than any state or government funded system has so-far been able to produce. Whether that is necessarily a good thing or not, only students and their careers will determine what benefits are to be had.
What will also become more widespread is the attempt to check, monitor and validate the quality of any private provision; particularly when part of any governmental education strategy. Even the US as a paragon of free-market economics does not believe higher education should be just left to the market. There will be considerable debate as to what national and international standards the private sector will have to achieve. Will we see Bologna compliant private colleges and universities as the norm
In the meanwhile, a report on qualification mills producing inadequate paper qualifications (prepared by Verifile Accredibase - a UK based screening organisation), saw an increase of 48% in bogus institutions (to over 2,500) operating in all parts of the world.
Finally, expect to see more blurring of the edges. There will be private partners of public universities, as well as public universities investing in stand-alone private provision that uses the staff and facilities of the ‘mother’ institution. This is already happening around the world and in both developed and emerging economies. This partnership model can allow both parties to do what they do best. One provides the innovation, investment and management flare to think of new methods of delivery and provision; whilst the other provides the academic rigour, teaching, reputation and higher education expertise. Hence the example of a public university in one country turning up in another as a private provider; sometimes for profit, sometimes not for profit.
Whatever happens in the next two or three years, virtually no higher education system in any country will emerge unchanged. It could be argued that universities and colleges are going through the biggest structural changes they have experienced in the last 50 years.