Private universities have played a marginal role in UK higher education up to now. However, the rise in tuition fees, together with variable educational standards in the state sector, are providing private universities with new opportunities. Private universities in the UK are divided between broader academic institutions such as the University of Buckingham and specialist providers such as the BPP. Lower-ranking universities are most likely to be exposed by the increasing quality and value for money of private universities. Ashbourne Independent Sixth Form College offers two year, 18 month and a one-year intensive A Level courses, providing a wide range of subject choices.
Private universities have, up to now, played a relatively marginal role in British higher education.
State-funded Public universities have been able to provide home students with inexpensive, high-quality degrees, and it has been difficult for the private sector to compete. This may be about to change.
Rising Fees and Variable Standards
The general rise in tuition fees, up to £9000 a year, together with variable educational standards in the state sector, are providing independent universities with new competitive opportunities.
At its best, the private sector can provide a degree of flexibility and individual attention that might be seen as offering better value for money than that provided by colleges in the state sector.
Private Universities in the UK
Private universities in the UK can be divided between broader academic institutions such as the University of Buckingham and more specialist providers exemplified by the European Business School London and BPP. The latter offers vocational degrees in areas such as law and accounting.
A very recent development has been the establishment of the New College of the Humanities by the philosopher A. C. Grayling, a former professor at Birkbeck College in the University of London.
There are also American colleges, such as Richmond, the American International University in London, which offer the experience of an American liberal arts education in a British setting.
The University of Buckingham
The University of Buckingham is a small, well-regarded university, with about 1300 students divided into four schools, Law, Humanities, Business, and Science and Medicine.
Although it is independent, the university is audited by the Quality Assurance Agency of Higher Education (QAA), the same organisation that supervises state-funded institutions.
It was founded in the 1970s by a group that included academics from the University of Oxford, and, like Oxbridge, Buckingham offers very small classes and even one-to-one tutorials.
As well as scoring highly in student satisfaction surveys, it was ranked 21st out of 116 universities in The Times Good University Guide 2012, and has a good reputation for both teaching and research.
Medipathways College offers alternative routes into medical and dental schools for able students who have failed to get in when taking their A Levels.
Medipathways offers a 1-year Pre-Med and a 2-year BSc(Hons) degree course in Biomedical Science which is validated by Buckingham University and taught at Birkbeck College, University of London. The entry requirements for the 1-year Pre-Med are AAA, but BBB will get you on to the BSc. 30% of the Pre-Med students have gone straight to UK medical schools on finishing the Pre-Med course; the remainder can study another year with Medipathways in order to get the BSc.
There are no statistics for the BSc graduates because this course is just starting, but most British medical and dental schools (apart from UCL) have said that they will consider applications from graduates with this degree. It is also possible for Medipathways students to go on to read medicine at an overseas university, although Medipathways’ main attraction is the route that it offers to British medical and dental schools.
An American Liberal Arts Education in a British Setting
The British traditions of the University of Buckingham contrast with the American system, represented in Britain by the American University in London and Richmond, the American International University in London.
The latter exemplifies the virtues of American liberal arts colleges with broad, flexible syllabuses: undergraduates can gain vocational experience as part of their university curriculum, as well as studying a range of academic disciplines.
Students also have the chance to transfer credits and split their education between Britain and America.
With their small classes and emphasis on individual attention, such institutions are now becoming increasingly affordable.
Traditionally dominated by overseas students, the university at Richmond has recently capped its fees for British and EU students at £9,500 a year.
Although, as with all private universities, only £6,000 can be financed through the government’s student loan scheme, the near-parity of fees will undoubtedly attract students who are unable to find a suitable course within the British university system.
A. C. Grayling’s New College of the Humanities in London
For ambitious students of the humanities, the New College of the Humanities in London has become an attractive, high-quality option. NCH combines the breadth of a liberal arts curriculum with the depth of a single honours degree in Economics, English, History, Law, Philosophy, or Politics and International Relations. In addition to the chosen degree course, each student takes four modules from his or her choice of one other degree subject, or Art History, Classical Studies, PPE or PPH, plus the College’s three core modules: Applied Ethics, Logic & Critical Thinking, and Science Literacy; and the College’s unique Professional Programme. At the end of this demanding course each student graduates with the dual award of a University of London undergraduate honours degree and the NCH Diploma.
The College also offers a strong tutorial system with one-to-one and small group tuition. This feature, together with its distinguished, vibrant teachers and lecturers, gives NCH a character reminiscent of Oxford and Cambridge and other elite institutions. The academic staff includes such internationally renowned scholars as professors A C Grayling, Simon Blackburn, Sir Partha Dasgupta, Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein and Sir Christopher Ricks who, together, deliver over a hundred lectures each year.
Because NCH is an independent university, students apply directly to the College. The application is in addition to each student’s five UCAS choices, and the College is still accepting applications for September.
The Challenge of Private Universities
In our judgement it is the lower-ranking universities that are most likely to be exposed by the increasing quality and value for money of private universities in Britain, which will also continue to play an important role in the area of professional qualifications.