Wednesday, March 23, 2011

14/100: Endgame for British For Profit Education

Theresa May, as expected, delivered - undoing the British Education industry within a span of one speech. At the time when the British Government is talking up industry and enterprise, she delivered a muddled protectionist policy, kicking off a civil war of sorts between the publicly funded and privately funded education providers in Britain.

The policy is harsh and abrupt, though it goes an extra mile to reclaim the international student market for the embattled British universities. However, the proposals, more or less, exterminates British For Profit education industry: If you are publicly funded, you go scot-free, if you are private, you must be dishonest - was the presumption she worked with. So, if a student chooses to go to a For Profit college, they will have no work rights or the rights to bring a dependent, so on and so forth. At one stroke, the visas that Private Colleges could have sponsored are being capped, and they are being told to change their accreditation system within 18 months time.

The International students, I shall argue, will have a much worse deal than before. Private colleges, despite the visa abuses in some of them, were driving programme innovation in the British Higher Education. They were expanding access, and an average student paid half the fees they needed to pay at the university studying in a private college for a comparable qualification. The changes will put most, including some of the leading, private colleges out of business, as the students will be weary of coming to Britain without any work entitlement at all.

I am certain that, out of this mess, new business models will emerge. Some of the colleges will be rejig themselves for the home student market, pushing the British universities hard where it hurts. The energies that made them capture the foreign student market now will be directed towards the home student market. This will also drive programme innovation and increased use of technology in delivering learning, and this may, with time, lead to private colleges setting up campuses abroad at a fast pace. Finally, this may also shift the focus on enterprise-linked training, of the kind I have been pursuing for our Digital Media entity, and a whole new game may emerge therefore.

In the end, then, more tests and tribulations for me: Suddenly, all that I was working with is gone. But I am as optimistic as ever. This is that inflection point in my life when I must start doing things afresh and explore new ideas. My idea of World College comes back to the agenda yet again: So does the idea of developing a good overseas campus. Higher Education, of the kind which changes life of the middle classes, will always be good business. I have already devoted my career to this, and despite the madness of Ms May, I am not giving up.

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