Higher education for sale

At the end of October 2010, Lord Browne gave a speech at BPP. He said of tuition fees, ‘if prices rise too high, there is room for new providers to enter the market and deliver higher education more efficiently’. Who these new providers would be is transparent: BPP is Britain’s largest private higher education provider. It was granted degree-awarding powers by the Labour government in September 2007. BPP sells professional legal and financial courses, owns four law schools, business schools and human resource training schools. It was bought by the US higher education company Apollo Global in the summer of 2007 for £368 million. Apollo Global operates in 40 US states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Canada and the Netherlands, selling courses up to doctoral level. Apollo Global is a joint venture, set up in 2007, between Apollo Group Inc and The Carlyle Group.

The Carlyle Group personifies the stealth and influence of high finance. It is a private equity firm, based in Washington, controlling $91 billion with over 1,300 investment partners in 71 countries. Carlyle’s main business is speculation in mergers and takeovers, finance, land and property. It invests in defence and aerospace, energy and power, health care, telecommunications, the media and transportation. Among Carlyle’s brands are Dunkin’ Donut and Baskin-Robbins. When the Labour government privatised British Ministry of Defence research laboratories, Carlyle bought a 34% stake in the newly formed QinetiQ in 2002 for £42 million. Within five years Carlyle’s investment was worth £300 million. In Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore’s film, he alleges that both the Bush and Bin Laden families are connected to Carlyle. Others who serve as Carlyle members or advisers are Karl Otto Pohl, former President of the German Bundesbank; Olivier Sarkozy, half-brother of the current French President and John Major, the former Prime Minister of Britain, chair of Carlyle Europe from 2002 to 2005.

This November, the Times Higher Education Supplement said that the examination board Edexcel may apply for degree-awarding powers. Edexcel is owned by Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times, The Economist and Penguin books. Pearson describes itself as ‘the world’s leading education company’, publishing under names such as Prentice Hall and Longman. Pearson’s chair is Glen Moreno who was also appointed chair of UK Financial Investments Limited, the company set up by HM Treasury to manage the government’s shareholdings in UK banks. Pearson also has interlocking directorships with HSBC, Lloyds Bank Group, Santander, Nokia, Tesco, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser and Marks and Spencer.

Another US company, Kaplan, based in New York, says it reaches over one million students worldwide, it also sells degree programmes in Britain. It provides university level education through online distance learning. Kaplan Open Learning is an affiliate of the University of Essex and this university validates its degrees. Kaplan Business School teaches University of London degrees and Foundation degrees. Kaplan owns the Dublin Business School. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Washington Post Company.

There is an over-abundance of capital; it seeks new outlets for profitable investment – higher education has been targeted. We are witnessing the creation of education multinationals.

Trevor Rayne

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011


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