The American education company Kaplan has announced plans to open a profit seeking university in the UK. Although only a small beginning, this opens the way to a profit-driven higher education system. The first move was the government's, who recently relaxed laws on who can award degrees. They are in effect trying to open up the concept of a degree to market speculation and commodification.
Kaplan is already prominent in the US,. But they are not altogether alien to these shores either, having joint ventures with Nottingham Trent and Sheffield universities. It also owns the Dublin Business School. Kaplan generates revenues of over $1 billion per year, so it clearly knows how to squeeze a buck or two out of our public education system.
Those leading a campaign against the possibility of a profit driven university are likely to be the Coalition of Modern Universities, which represents about 30 'new' universities in England. They have already criticised the government's relaxing of laws on the awarding of degrees, because the changes could rob universities of vital funds and would unsurprisingly create an even more class-divided, elitist university system. A senior figure within the CMU said: "There has been absolutely no consultation on principle, mechanics or implications for sustainability." The group prides itself on being the biggest player in attracting students from poorer backgrounds to higher education. However, whatever the motivations and creation processes of the new laws, the introduction of profit-driven universities will open up the British higher education system to becoming more like American system, the most elitist and expensive in the world.
That the potential university will aim itself at the more wealthy customers is confirmed by its running of the SAT system for entry into such institutions. "The conventional wisdom is that the [SAT] test is just another leg up for rich kids who can shell out $1,000 for a test prep course. To some, the likes of Kaplan and Princeton Review have turned good SAT scores into a commodity, another saleable ticket into America's Ivy League aristocracy," says Kerry Howley, an American teacher. Once such a university comes into being over here, as is no doubt the government's intentions, it would be in direct competition with public, established universities. The law of the market would then be applied with ever greater force on our higher education system, and will inevitably erode what remains of its public character. In the light of this, the government's plans to remove the cap on fees, allowing universities to charge as much as they like, are clearly a part of a larger plan. But it is not wise, even from a long-term capitalist perspective, to open up university education to speculation when this has recently proved to be so volatile as to threaten the entire world economy. Do we want the same logic that has lead to the food crisis and driven millions more into starvation, to also be applied to the way we learn? No way!