David Willetts is right to allow more private institutions to become universities. More private universities would widen access and raise standards by increasing experimentation, choice and competition.
University College Union’s (UCU) statement that the reputation and standards at UK universities are at risk is incorrect. In the UK, the case of Buckingham – the first private university set up thirty year ago – is pertinent. Buckingham tops student satisfaction, staff student ratios and career outcomes, while their Business School was recently ranked second in the Guardian’s university guide 2011. More private universities would undoubtedly raise standards.
Also, UCU’s suggestion that private universities threatens academic freedom is preposterous. The opposite is actually the case. As UCU and others have pointed out, restrictive government funding criteria increasingly threatens academic freedom. Private universities take no government money, which allows them greater freedom than universities funded by the state.