Private sector providers struggling in volatile sector

A new working paper by Dr Stephen Hunt of University College London and Professor Vikki Boliver based at Durham University has unveiled the stark volatility in the higher education private provider sector.

Working Paper 47 found that half (50% or 363) of private higher education providers identified by 2014 research had ceased to operate, at least as higher education providers, three years later.

“Of the providers which have ceased to provide higher education since 2014, 165 were listed as dissolved at Companies House, 70 had simply vanished without trace, and a further 128 were still in operation but no longer providing courses at higher education level, or possibly never had,” said Hunt.

“There is a huge amount of churn in the private higher education provider sector and most of the losses confirmed by Companies House data were associated with for-profit institutions,” he said.

“These tend to be more recently founded. These may be newer arrivals offering similar subjects at similar levels, amounting to a greater concentration in an already crowded market, increasing competition and the likelihood of market exit.

“The threat of market exit is though seldom experienced by the sector’s larger or higher profile providers,” added Hunt.

Elsewhere, the working paper found there are still 813 private providers in operation in the UK – a significant increase on the 732 and 674 recorded in 2014 and 2011 respectively.

The vast majority of private providers, 88 per cent, operate exclusively in England. Private providers range from a few large-scale colleges and private universities with 1000+ enrolled students to small scale providers offering courses in addition to their principle business.