Labour MP hails report of U-turn by coalition on private universities

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A YORKSHIRE Labour MP has welcomed claims the Government is preparing to shelve plans to allow private firms to set up state-funded universities.

Reports emerged yesterday that the coalition’s Higher Education Bill has been delayed indefinitely and is unlikely to be published before 2015.

The new legislation, expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech, was designed to make it easier for private colleges to set up new universities in Britain.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said no final decision had been taken and further discussions were set to take place in the next couple of weeks.

Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Central MP, has welcomed suggestions the Government has had to abandon its plans.

He tabled an early day motion last year signed by 134 MPs which voiced concern about “the possible expansion of for-profit providers in the higher education sector.”

He said: “I welcome yesterday’s reports that the Government have shelved their plans for higher education privatisation.

“This decision reflects the widespread and growing concern across the education sector about the Government’s plans, and from MPs from all political parties.

“If the Higher Education Bill is going to be scrapped then we need to remain vigilant to any move to introduce privatisation by stealth, without any legislation. I’ll still be pushing for a full debate to be held in parliament on the role of the for-profit sector in higher education because the Government needs to clarify its position on higher education reform and its plans to attract US companies to run UK universities.”

His motion last year also voiced concern that “the world-class teaching and research of the UK’s higher education sector could be threatened by new for-profit providers.”

Although the Higher Education Bill is yet to be published the Government has already introduced massive changes to the university sector – trebling the cap on tuition fees to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year from September. It has also cut university teaching budgets by 80 per cent making them more reliant on income through student fees which will initially be paid for by the Treasury through loans which graduates pay back once they earn more than £21,000-a-year.