Greg Clark, the new universities minister, has a revised job specification for his higher education responsibilities. Along with preventing violent extremism and promoting education exports, his ministerial brief states that he will oversee “widening participation for students and providers”. It seems that the term “widening participation” has been redefined to mean encouraging more private colleges into the sector.
In this way, Clark takes on the legacy left by his predecessor, David Willetts, who told assembled university heads at the Universities UK spring conference in 2011 that “the biggest lesson I have learned is that the most powerful driver of public sector reform is to let new providers into the system. They do things differently in ways none can predict.”
Millions of pounds of public funding is already being spent to support study at private providers, but beyond well-known private institutions such as BPP University and the University of Buckingham, a host of less familiar private colleges are benefiting from recent policy changes.