Private higher education in the UK: a contribution to an analysis of the commodification of knowledge in the information society

2014-06-17T15:33:10Z (GMT) by Sarah Barnard
The UK higher education sector is currently undergoing changes that will impact on the way students learn in the future. National, European and global education policy discourses underline the importance of higher education to the development of an active citizenry and as a way of sustaining economic growth. Corresponding to the rise of higher education on the political agenda there have been huge increases in the numbers of students going on to university education in the UK and further afield. These two aspects have placed a brighter spotlight on the problems the sector faces and change is stated to be necessary and desirable in order for higher education to fulfil its role in society. The growing political will to devise clear linkages between those individuals who benefit from a university education and those who pay for it, advances in information communication technologies, and the related requirements of the knowledge society, form the receptive landscape for moves towards private higher education in the UK. This thesis focuses on the particular phenomenon of corporate or private enterprise providing higher education in competition with government funding-dependent, so called public universities. The activities of private higher education, or independently-funded, non-state dependent higher education providers in the UK suggest that as the relationship between state and the academy goes through significant changes, these providers have become a sensitive issue. Different parties view the activities of private providers in very different ways; however they are viewed, the activities of these providers are a hot topic in higher education at present. Despite this interest, there are only small amounts of information available about this subsector of HE provision, or about the experiences of staff and students working at these companies. This thesis attempts to address this point by offering an overview of the current situation, referring to quantitative data and with a qualitative investigation. Whilst the concept of private versus public in the higher education sector in the UK is increasingly complex, and the context of a speeding up in the transformation of the sector means it is difficult to paint an accurate picture of such a fast moving object of enquiry, the thesis will attempt to shed some light on the activities of corporations in the higher education sector in the UK within the global context.