Bogus Colleges (8) Bogus News

The last stages of consideration for the Higher Education and Research Bill will bring back the issue of whether international students should be included in the government’s net migration target.

The government has held firm on this issue, and when pressed, argues that there have been multiple cases of abuse in the student visa system, and the key evidence for this is the number of ‘bogus colleges’.

Clearly, there were once abuses. The system of policing fraudulent colleges had been left to Trading Standards – which was probably appropriate when there was limited opportunity to defraud members of the public. But there were few controls on the way the Home Office allowed providers onto their new register when they introduced a points-based system. As other avenues to immigration were closed, the system of private college accreditation couldn’t cope with determined efforts to cheat the system. No doubt there were colleges that cheated students, students who cheated colleges and probably colleges and students who colluded together to cheat the government. After the 2010 election, the Home Office acted, layering new rules on all providers, resulting in a large number leaving the register.

Taking the register

The Home Office register currently has 1,300 providers on it. The number constantly changes: a new register is published most weekdays as a provider joins, changes status or leaves. The Home Office knows that since 2010 over 900 providers have left the register, and ministers in all departments are briefed to use this number – a very large number – as part of the argument for tight controls on student visas.

The problem is that the Home Office isn’t sure which providers were bogus and which were real, and ministers (and their speechwriters) have hardly differed in how they’ve described the number.

In October 2014 David Cameron said that the government “stopped nearly 800 fake colleges bringing people in”. In June 2015 Jo Johnson talked of stopping over 870 “rogue providers and dodgy operators”.  In August 2015 James Brokenshire noted they had “stuck off nearly 900 bogus colleges”.  In October 2016, Amber Rudd told the Conservative Party Conference “the coalition stopped 875 bogus colleges bringing in overseas students.  In January 2017 at the HE Bill Committee, Viscount Younger noted abuses and carefully said “More than 900 institutions lost the ability to bring in international students”.

The Tier 4 register is a public document, but changes are not flagged on it. Sometimes it is very obvious when a provider is removed from the Register: sadly London Metropolitan University’s removal was all too visible.

I have now asked for the list of the providers removed from the register on three occasions through the Freedom of Information Act, so have something of a time series to work with, with lists from 2014, 2015 and 2016. I made my most recent request in October 2016 – but, after six months, I got a list of the revocations dated 7th May 2010 to 30th June 2016, which is the basis for the following data.

The first thing to note is that there are 957 names on the 2016 list. That should vindicate ministers straight away, except that UKVI has to note that the list contains sponsors who have been revoked multiple times. The list is just of the provider’s name at the time it was on the register; there is no other identifier. Just by comparing names I found 67 exact duplicates. At best, therefore, there were only 890 institutions who lost the ability to bring in international students.

It’s also clear that if you compare the list of those removed in the past, with the current register, there are plenty of places who have started bringing in international students again. Happily, that includes London Metropolitan University, but at least 24 more other providers – places such as Magdalen College School or Hereford Cathedral School. When studying the list, you discover that many colleges have similar names. As I only have the names, I can’t be sure that one provider hasn’t just changed their name. The Home Office would know, but they’re not telling me.

To illustrate this, here are just the colleges on the 2016 removal list whose name starts ‘London College’:

London College of Accountancy and Management(London CAM)
London College of Accounting & Finance
London College of Advanced Management
London College of Beauty Therapy
London College of Business and Computer Studies
London College of Business Management & Information Technology
London College of Business Sciences Limited
London College of Care Education Ltd
London College of Commerce
London College of Commerce
London College of Computing and Management24
London College of Computing Ltd t/a Bickenhall & London College
London College of Engineering and Management
London College of Executives
London College of Finance & Accounting
London College of International Business Studies
London College of Law and Management
London College of Management
London College of Management
London College of Management & Computer Sciences
London College of Management Studies
London College of Research ltd.
London College of Social and Management Sciences
London College of Social Studies
London College Wimbledon

There’s an interesting mix of capitalisation and punctuation in the Register which helps in this process of comparison. For example, in counting, I have assumed that London College of Management has one duplicate, but is different from any of the other variants listed here.

But the biggest group of problematic providers are those who are on the list of those removed, yet seem (at least on first look) entirely bona fide operations. It was clearly a goal of government to make sponsoring international students an onerous duty. Some of these institutions may have been removed from the register because they were not compliant, and others because they decided they wanted to come off it, but there are a slew of genuine schools and colleges who are no longer able to recruit internationally.

Again, as there is no way of being sure. I have traced over 100 such places: sixth form colleges such as Ludlow or Newham; further education Colleges in Bracknell, Havant, or Waterlooville; prep schools and secondary schools. Language schools feature as clearly a number moved from using Tier 4 to student visitor visas. In all, they are a minority of those who have been removed, but absolutely not who you’d describe as ‘fake’ or ‘bogus’.

As it happens, checking that Berkshire College of Agriculture in Maidenhead was bona fide (it is), I found a nice story about the local MP, Theresa May, opening a new technology hub there.

This is pedantic, of course, but at least 200 of the names of providers on the list provided by UKVI can’t count as a bogus college.

Poor proxies

Logically, there must be a slowing down of the discovery of ‘bogus colleges’, as the regime brought in by May has now been operating fully for a few years. By comparing lists, I found that 50 were removed between October 2015 and June 2016 [see below]. I suspect that all of these 50 were attempting to be a proper college, but had either opted out or fallen foul of the compliance rules.

I think Amber Rudd is right, therefore, to put the bogus college issue in the past as something that has been dealt with (although her 875 figure is almost certainly wrong).

I’ve written to ministers a couple of times now to point out that the use of the number of providers removed from the register is a poor proxy for the number of ‘bogus’ colleges and they should avoid potential confusion by dropping it. The Home Office have noted that the data they send me in these FOI responses is live data, and not to the standard required for official statistical information – which, of course, highlights that none of the ministerial speeches has used information at that standard either.

Just to underline that, the 2016 list does not contain the names of 33 providers who were on the 2015 list. Somehow, providers who had been removed from the register by 2015 are no longer noted as having been removed from the register.  Someone has tidied up the database, which is good for the 33 (which included some prestigious names), but is a further dent in the case for this being reliable data.

As we gear up to have the debate again about including students in the immigration targets, it should be clear that no one wants to go back to the days of “rogue providers and dodgy operators”. It did nothing for the reputation of UK higher education to have the ‘Royal College of London’ operating out of a back street in Barking. As John Fielden and Robin Middlehurst have noted, even with the incoming OfS regime, hundreds of providers will remain outside the regulatory framework – they should not be allowed to sponsor students’ visas.


The former site (now demolished) of the former ‘Royal College of London’ (no longer on the Tier 4 Register) seen via Streetview


But, neither should fear of ‘bogus’ colleges, however many there once were, prevent the government from honestly explaining the reasons for its successive crackdowns on international students’ right to enter and be educated in the UK.

50 new providers removed between October 2015 and June 2016

  • Access Skills Ltd
  • Arden College
  • Brigham Young University
  • Bucks New University
  • Capital School of Business and Management
  • Capital School of English
  • CELT – Centre for English Language Teaching
  • Colchester English Study Centre
  • Edgware Academy
  • Ffynone House School
  • Golders Green College
  • Greys College (UK) Ltd
  • GSM London Limited
  • Heathfield School GDST
  • impact international college
  • inlingua Cardiff/Swansea (a trading name of Ciris Language School Ltd)
  • Institute of International Education in London (Registered as Humanet International Ltd)
  • James Watt College
  • Kings Priory School
  • Live Language
  • London College of Business Sciences Limited
  • London College of International Business Studies
  • London Meridian College
  • London School of Management Sciences
  • London School of Science & Technology
  • Lords Independent School
  • Macclesfield College
  • modern montessori international
  • Newlands School
  • Operation Mobilisation
  • Princes College School of English
  • Ray Cochrane Beauty School
  • Severnvale Academy
  • Sherrardswood School
  • SMU Post Licencing Team
  • Sompting Abbotts School
  • Southbourne School of English
  • Speak Up London Ltd
  • St Annes College Ltd
  • The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation
  • The National Autistic Society
  • The Oldham College
  • Tower College
  • University of Minnesota Duluth Study in England Programme
  • Wake Forest University
  • Westminster Academy
  • Winsor Education
  • Worcester College of Technology


A version of this article first appeared on WonkHe as Ministers must stop spreading bogus news about bogus colleges on 25 April 2017

The Many Mergers of English Higher Education

Most English universities have had some form of merger at some point.

I’d done a piece of work for a session on the Higher Education world since 1992 looking at the changes in institutions.  I’d started to compile a list of the institutions that had changed, hoping that I might do a nice graphic showing the ones that had merged, but it soon transpired that most of the HEIs that transferred into HEFCE’s sector in the 1990s had done some form of merger.  Then there was an interesting piece by Anna Fazackerley in the Guardian on take-overs and mergers which, by highlighting only three mergers gives the impression that they’re rarer than you’d think.

The biggest structural change since the start of the binary policy was the amalgamation of  local authority colleges to create the polytechnics.  Government was looking for large centres to sustain standards, so authorities brought together collections of their colleges into one big college.  Then the major change in policy after the James Report saw many colleges of education merge either together or into a university of polytechnic.  The final major wave was the transfer of health care to the HE sector, with schools of nursing or other health studies merging into HEIs.  These mergers came about because of major external policy drivers.

The other comprehensive exercise which resulted in mergers was the rationalisation of colleges in the University of London – first the general colleges, and later the medical schools.  Some of the mergers carried the name forward, with Royal Holloway and Bedford College or Queen Mary and Westfield, but these have now vanished from the trading name.  Driven by reductions in funding, the UGC had also amalgamated provision, say by moving Bradford’s psychology course to Leeds, but I have excluded that as not being a merger.

Of the 140 HEIs which were on HEFCE’s books in 1994, I reckon only 32 haven’t had some form of merger.    Although colleges have migrated to Oxford and Cambridge, I’m only counting Homerton as a merger – as it was a HEFCE-funded HEI.  I may have missed information on an old merger – some universities are proud of the many different places that form their roots, but other want to emphasise a single stem.

Institution in 1994
Anglia Polytechnic University Merger of CCAT & Chelmer Institute (in turn two colleges) plus nursing merger
Aston University none
University of Bath none
Bath College of HE Merger of Art & education colleges
University of Birmingham Merged with westhill
Birkbeck College none
Bishop Grosseteste College none
Bolton Institute of HE Merger of Bolton Institute of Technology & Bolton College of Education
Bournemouth University none
University of Bradford Merger with nursing college
Bretton Hall Merged into Leeds, site closed
University of Brighton Merger at designation, later with Brighton College of Education East Sussex College of Higher Education & nursing colleges
University of Bristol none
Brunel University Merged with West London Institute of HE, site now closed
Buckinghamshire College of HE High Wycombe College of Art and Technology merged with the Newland Park College of Education
University of Cambridge Merger of Homerton College into Education & as a College
University of Central England 5 Colleges merged at polytechnic designation, then 3 education colleges & 2 nursing colleges
University of Central Lancashire none
Central School of Speech & Drama none (save joining London University)
Canterbury Christ Church College Merged with College of Guidance Studies
Cheltenham and Gloucester CHE Merger of colleges of education & College of Technology
Chester College of HE Merger with Warrington Collegiate Institute
Chichester Institute Merger of colleges of education
City University Merger with nursing college & Inns of Court School of Law
Coventry University Merger of Lanchester College of Technology, College of Art & Rugby College of Engineering Technology
Cranfield University Merged with National College of Agricultural Engineering
Dartington College of Arts Merged into Falmouth
De Montfort University Merged with Bedford College & FE Colleges & de-merged
University of Derby Art, Technical & education colleges merged, then Matlock College of Education
University of Durham Merged with College of Education
University of East Anglia Merger with College of Education, merger & de-merger with Newcastle
University of East London Three colleges merged at polytechnic designation
Edge Hill College of HE Merger with nursing college
Institute of Education Merged into UCL
University of Essex none
University of Exeter Merged with college of education
Falmouth College of Arts Merger with Dartington
Goldsmiths College none
University of Greenwich Woolwich Polytechnic merged with Hammersmith College of Art and Building at Polytechnic designation. Then Dartford College (1976), Avery Hill College (1985), Garnett College (1987) and parts of Goldsmiths College and the City of London College
The College of Guidance Studies Merged with CCCU
Harper Adams Agricultural College none
University of Hertfordshire Mergers with colleges of education and nursing
Homerton College Merged into Cambridge
University of Huddersfield Merger of College of Technology & Oastler College of Education at desgnation, later with Technical Teaching Training College at Holly Bank
University of Hull Merger with Scarborough
University of Humberside 5 Colleges merged to become Hull College of HE, later merges with Lincolshire colleges of De Montfort
School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine none
Imperial College Royal Colleges of Chemistry & Science, School of Mines & C&C Central Institute. Later medical school merger
Institute of Advanced Nursing Education
Keele University Merged with health studies colleges
University of Kent at Canterbury None
Kent Institute of Art & Design Merged into university of creative arts
King Alfred’s College Merger with nursing colleges
King’s College London De-Merger & re-Merger with Queen Elizabeth College & Health mergers
Kingston University Merger at designation, later with Gipsy Hill College of Education
Lancaster University none
La Sainte Union College of HE Mergerd into Southampton, site closed
University of Leeds Merged with Bretton Hall, site closed, also health studies
Leeds Metropolitan University Merged at designation – later merged and then de-merged with Harrogate College
University of Leicester Merged with Vaughan College (1927)
University of Liverpool none
Liverpool Institute of HE Merger of colleges of education
Liverpool John Moores University Mergers before polytechnic designation
University of London Federal university – constant mergers…
London Business School none
London School of Economics & Political Science none
London Guildhall University Merged with UNL
The London Institute Merger of Art Colleges
Loughborough University of Technology Merged with Art College
Loughborough Coll of Art & Design Merged into Loughborough
University of Luton Merged with nursing colleges, merged with Bedford campus of De Montfort
University of Manchester Merged with UMIST
UMIST Merged with Manchester
Manchester Metropolitan University Merger of lots of colleges, including Crewe & Alasager
Middlesex University Mergers before polytechnic designation, then Trent Park College of Education, New College of Speech and Drama & College of All Saints
Nene College Colleges of Technology & Education merge, health care studies added
University of Newcastle upon Tyne Merges and de-merges with Durham University, with merge with parts of Durham again
Newman College none
University of North London Merged with Guildhall
North Riding College Merged into Hull, site closing
Northern School of Contemporary Dance none
University of Northumbria at Newcastle Merger at polytechnic designation, later with Northern Counties College of Education and then health studies
Norwich School of Art & Design Merged with Great Yarmouth College of Art
University of Nottingham Merged with Midlands Agricultural and Dairy College (1947)
Nottingham Trent University Merger at polytechnic designation, later with Nottingham College of Education
Open University none
School of Oriental & African Studies none
University of Oxford none
Oxford Brookes University Merger with health colleges & education colleges
School of Pharmacy Merged into UCL
University of Plymouth Merged with Rolle College, the Exeter College of Art and Design, Seale-Hayne College & Plymouth School of Maritime Studies
University of Portsmouth Merged with Portsmouth College of Education
Queen Mary & Westfield College Merger of Queen Mary & Westfield, merger with medical schools
Ravensbourne College Bromley School of Art merged with the Department of Furniture Design of the Beckenham School of Art
University of Reading Merger with Henley Business School, Bulmershe College
College of Ripon & York St John Merger of two colleges, Ripon site now closed
Roehampton Institute Merger of four education colleges
Rose Bruford College none
Royal Academy of Music none
Royal College of Art none
Royal College of Music none
Royal Holloway Merged with Bedford College
Royal Northern College of Music none
Royal Postgraduate Medical School Merged with imperial
Royal Veterinary College none
St George’s Hospital Medical School None (merger called off)
College of St Mark & St John Two colleges of education merged in 1923
S. Martin’s College Merged into University of Cumbria
St Mary’s College none
University of Salford Merged with College of Tech
Salford College of Technology Merged with Salford
University of Sheffield Merger with Sheffield and North Trent College of Nursing and Midwifery (but no longer teaching nursing)
Sheffield Hallam University Merger at polytechnic designation (Sheffield School of Design & College of Technology) later Sheffield City College and Totley Hall College
University of Southampton Merger with LSU & WSA
Southampton Institute of HE Merger with school of navigation
South Bank University Merger at polytechnic designation, later Rachel MacMillan College of Education & Battersea College of Education
Staffordshire University Merger at polytechnic designation: Stoke-on-Trent College of Art, North Staffordshire College of Technology & Staffordshire College of Technology plus college of education later
University of Sunderland Merger at Polytechnic designation: art, education & technology colleges
Surrey Institute of Art and Design Merged into Uni of Creative Arts
University of Surrey Merged with Roehampton, de-merged with Roehampton
University of Sussex none
University of Teesside Merger with Teesside College of Education
Thames Valley University Merged with Reading College & demerged
Trinity & All Saints Two colleges of education merged
Trinity College of Music Merged with Laban Centre
University College London Merged with IoE, Slavonic Studies, Pharmacy & Medical Schools
University of Warwick Merged with college of education
Westhill College Merged into Birmingham
University of Westminster Merger with Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce
Westminster College Merged into Oxford Brookes
University of West of England Merger at Polytechnic designation, then college of education (St Matthias) & nursing colleges
Wimbledon School of Art Merged into University of the Arts
Winchester School of Art Merged into Southampton
University of Wolverhampton College of Technology merged with College of Art & later West Midlands College of Higher Education
Worcester College of HE Merger with nursing college
Writtle College none
Wye College Merged into Imperial, site closed
University of York none

Mergers have come about because of a combination of strategy and exigency, generally the sense that a larger comprehensive body will better survive or thrive – Merging Colleges for Mutual Growth as described in James Martin and James E. Samels helpful book.  What the English experience shows is that an external body has often been involved, if only to validate the necessity of merger.  Sometimes it is clear that the external body has eased the path; HEFCE Chief Executives have sweetened emergency mergers in a way that their predecessors at OfS might struggle to achieve.


Some of these ‘mergers’ have, in the long run, been managed market exits.  This route protects students and staff but also the alumni.  There’s little physical trace now of La Sainte Union College, Southampton – its site is now housing – perhaps it’s only ongoing remnant is the podiatry course.  The Wheatley site of Lady Spencer Churchill College (merged with Oxford Polytechnic in 1972) will finally go for housing in 2022, but members of its staff stayed all the way to retirement having clocked up 40 years service.  Will Secretaries of State really let a university close?  When Cardiff had its crisis in 1986, Ken Baker could have let it close – but he chose not to, and emphatically issued a press release making clear that ‘No University Will Close’ (DES News 247/86).  Maybe the OfS will find that it will still be in the business of facilitating mergers…





Bogus Colleges (7) The replies 

Having waited six months for a reply to my FOI request for the names of providers who have left the Tier 4 Register – the number that ministers claim were bogus colleges – I wrote to the Home Secretary.

Outlining my issue about the use of the number of providers on the Tier 4 Register, I asked if her office could facilitate compliance with the data protection act (after all, non-compliance with the sponsors duties would be a sure-fire way of getting bumped off the Tier 4 Register).

As you’d hope, something happened. After all those months, on 28 March I had a response from the Home Office with the information.

I’ve also now had a reply to my letter to Amber Rudd, which is a such a classic non-reply, non-apology, letter that you’d be a curmudgeon not to be pleased as the standards of the modern British Civil Service.

Firstly, no causal link is made between my writing to the Home Secretary, and the FOI info being sent.  It’s just noted.  Nothing about the six month delay.

Then, the issues about ministerial use of the number removed from the Register is non-answered by reference to the data being in an live operational database (more on that to follow).

Finally, I get the ‘brightest and best’ line, the good news there is no cap (even though the Home Secretary had herself mooted a reduction in numbers) and the better news that the ‘Government has no plans to limit any institution’s ability to recruit international students’ (although that’s exactly what the Home Secretary had said they would consider).   This is the crux: the Home Office can’t handle the contradiction that if there’s a target to reduce met migration, and students are in the net migration figures, then there must be a target to reduce student numbers.

The easiest way to remove students from net migration is not to stop counting them (as Christopher Howarth had complained about)  but to be very clear that they don’t contribute to the net part of net migration which the want to reduce.  People come on a student visa, and then they stop being on a student visa.  If the Home Office don’t know what happens to them, then that is really an argument for sorting that out.

But, phew.  The Government has “no plans to limit any institution’s ability to recruit international students”.  They can accept the Hannay amendment to the HE Bill, and we’ll hear nothing more about this,   All that’s left is for me to do some pedantry about the numbers of ‘bogus colleges’…

Read More About: Exciting Stories about Universities

Every week seems to bring an exciting range of stories about universities. Clearly some media are actively looking out for new tales of ‘snowflake’ students or other madcap adventures.  Sometimes this comes with an unhealthy dose of purience – look how easily companies can plant stories about ‘sugar daddies’ for example.

The Telegraph isn’t the only media outlet doing this, but they do have an ‘online education editor’ who collates a lot of this stuff.  If you read through to the end of the story you find links to other similar stories. Taken out of context – these give a strange impression of the coverage universities are getting.

Can you guess the stories?

These are just picked from the first three months of this year, who knows what exciting links will come up next…

Searching for value for money – OfS’s new powers

The Higher Education & Research Bill creates a new regulator (OfS) who need different powers than the old regulator (HEFCE).  I think there is a realisation that a lot of regulation was done through the funding system, and where a provider isn’t funded, this breaks down.

The Bill creates the power for OfS to ask for a search warrant of a provider. It says:

A justice of the peace who is satisfied that the requirements in sub-paragraph (3) are met in relation to relevant higher education premises may issue a warrant under this paragraph (a “search warrant”) in respect of the premises.

The grounds for asking for a warrant (Sub-paragraph 3) are stated as there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is, or has been, a breach of a registration condition or funding condition of the provider.

HEFCE do not have this power.  Clearly, if they thought that fraud was being committed, then they could involve a body who do have this power (the police for example).  It was interesting to hear the reasons given by Lord Young (who has been Viscount Younger’s wingman in report stage) when Labour proposed limiting these powers to just fraud.

“However, narrowing the powers in the way proposed could affect our ability to investigate effectively certain cases where value for public money, quality, and the student interest was at risk, but where these might not clearly constitute fraud, or serious or wilful mismanagement of public funds at the time of the application for the warrant.

As an example, the OfS could put in place a condition to limit the number of students a provider with high drop-out and low qualification rates was able to recruit: for instance if the OfS considered that those performance issues are related to the provider recruiting more students than it can properly cater for.” Lord Young, Hansard 8 March 2017

The ‘probing’ amendment had done it’s job.  The Government wants search powers of universities when the OfS is worried about ‘value for money’.  Furthermore, the example of providers taking on too many students – one wonders which providers Government is worrying about there? Lord Young explained further:

If the OfS has grounds to suspect that the provider is in any case undertaking an aggressive student enrolment campaign, it is important that evidence can be found swiftly to confirm this, and to prevent over-recruitment. Lord Young, Hansard 8 March 2017

It seems a bit rich to complain, now that the Government is getting the powers to stop some of the things that happened in the bad old days of alternative provider growth (2011-2014), but that seems to be exactly what they’re doing.  Lord Watson, for Labour, made that point.  Lord Young agreed: the NAO had criticised the lack of these powers in their report on alternative providers – which made it harder to ‘tackle rogue providers’. Clearly these aren’t the same alternative providers that the Government wanted to give ‘probationary’ degree powers to. Those are the different class of ‘Challenger Institutions’ – the respectable ones based in Hereford or Malmsbury.

It’s likely that this power will remain, so officers from OfS will be able to get a warrant and come round with the police and check your student marketing strategy.

Bogus Colleges (6): the freedom of information

I keep returning to an aspect of the UK Government’s approach to immigration: the use of data about ‘bogus colleges’ to demonstrate that there has been abuses of the student visa system.  This is done to: (a) demonstrate the energy of the Home Office in dealing with this and (b) to justify additional measures.  I have shown, I think, in several blog posts on this topic that the way that government uses an overall number of providers who have been removed from the register is misleading.

In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 4 October 2016  Amber Rudd said:

The Conservative-led coalition stopped 875 bogus colleges bringing in overseas students, tackled abuse of student visas, and reformed the family system.

Now, I know that is unlikely.  It’s clear that at least 875 providers will have been removed from the register.  In October 2015 there were 890 providers on the list of those removed. In October 2014 there were 835 on the list. But the lists provided are of colleges and schools who have at any time been removed, even if they now have a new entry (because they changed name, ownership or returned after a period of suspension) or if they are an entirely reputable provider who has just stopped courses that need a tier 4 visa (schools who no longer take international students or language schools who now only offer shorter courses).

So I asked for another list of the providers who were no longer on the list.  I asked for that on 4 October 2016 and was promptly told that the Home Office would respond by 1 November 2016, 20 working days after my FOI request.

On 2 November I reminded the Home Office that they’d said they’d respond by 1 November.

On 15 November I reminded the Home Office, pointing out they were now 10 working days after 1 November.

On 29 November  I reminded the Home Office, pointing out they were now 20 working days after 1 November, double the time they should have taken.

On 5 December I asked the Home Office to undertake an internal review of their inability to meet the FOI response time.

On 6 December, the Home Office replied.  They regretted they hadn’t met the response time, and assured me that “we are dealing with your request and we will send you a full reply as soon as we can”.  They did not say that they’d undertake an internal review.

On 5 January 2017  I again asked the Home Office to undertake an internal review of their inability to meet the FOI response time as it was now three months after my request.

On 6 January, the Home Office replied, with their standard first response letter again, saying that they’d reply within 20 days.

On 13 January, the Home Office replied with their template letter for having conducted an internal review. They said:

I apologise on behalf of the department for the length of time which it is taking to provide you with a substantive response to your request.  The policy area has been informed of your concerns and I can confirm that your request is under active consideration and is being treated as a matter of priority.

As of 10 February, we’ve now had 20 working days since an internal review at the Home Office confirmed that they not met the FOI deadline, nor had they informed me that there was any reason why they could not meet the deadline.  20 working days is the standard set for responses to FOI requests, but even with the policy area treating this as a ‘priority’ they haven’t met that deadline.  I don’t know how many ‘working days’ the Home Office had over Christmas, but assuming they didn’t come in at all, they’ve now had at least 87 days.  I also know that the data they have provided me in the past has simply been a download of the names of providers who have been flagged as being removed from the register.  That should be a five minute job.  Why hasn’t that been possible in four months?

I’ve now raised this with the Information Commissioner.  But why should I need to?  Ministers are clearly very proud of the action they took to stop ‘bogus colleges’.  In the Committee Stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, Lord Younger noted that:

I should like to make clear the Government’s position on international students generally. … I make no apology that, when we came to power in 2010, we took steps to rid the system of abuse that was then rife. No one denies now that action needed to be taken then. More than 900 institutions lost the ability to bring in international students.

In October 2016 the Home Secretary said 875 bogus colleges had been stopped by the coalition – now the number stands at over 900.  Why won’t they release the names of the providers concerned?

Raising the stakes in student accomodation

Student housing is a lucrative business.  I know that because I get emails from investment companies telling me that it is.  They promise high yields on investments; a far cry from the interest offered on bank accounts.  Meanwhile sovereign wealth funds are buying up whole developments and portfolios as UK student housing looks like a safe bet.  The economics of this are driving companies to compete, mostly by looking to justify ever higher costs, meanwhile something important is being lost.

The current ‘offer’, especially at the ‘luxury’ end of the range, is quite different from that enjoyed by many who went to university in the second half of the twentieth century.  Here the norm was for utilitarian facilities, with sharing as the dominant theme.  Students shared food, bathrooms, entertainment facilities, even a payphone (few UK students shared bedrooms as their US counterparts did).   This wasn’t just an accident; it became the official policy of British Higher Education to encourage a residential life, with students being deliberately mixed together.  The shift to a market for accommodation threatens that policy: it separates the residential life from the academic life, it runs the risk of separating students, and it is increasing the cost of higher education (with speculators gaining from that).   It’s also a process we’ve been through before – so we should be warned.

From Halls to Studio Living

The student room has transformed in 40 years.   The earliest development was away from the catered hall of residence to the self-catered flats.  Grouped into flats of differing numbers, this became the new unit of student living.  A kitchen/lounge was provided for the group, often at the expense of any social space in the wider hall.   These clusters maintained the privacy of the individual study bedroom, but created a new group focus.

This mode of building is still popular; a 175 bed building in Headington was offered for sale at £18,650,000 before building got underway or even planning had been granted (it’s very much still under construction and the company now say they’ll keep it).  With an underwriting by Oxford Brookes of 97% of the income for the property and a management agreement in place with a third party company, the investor was promised a net initial yield of 5.75% in the first five years.

A new mode of living is coming up, though.  Some student developments started to include a few ‘studio’ flats; a larger unit incorporating the lounge option with a small kitchenette.   While universities found themselves with a variety of standards of accommodation (compare the older rooms sharing facilities with the new ensuite rooms) these are now being built into the same developments.  Savills are selling Wellgate House in Edinburgh for £6,500,000, a converted building whose 66 rooms are divided between standard and  large cluster rooms, standard, large and penthouse studios.


Assuming a 43 week let (Destiny Scotland take care of festival booking in the summer) a student in a standard cluster room would pay £7,740 – which after the operating costs would enable then to gain a net initial yield of 6% (after purchaser costs).

Now whole developments are being created with these studios.  An example is Cormorant House – part of a waterfront regeneration scheme in Huddersfield.


Cormorant House

The funding arrangements for this are different, rather than buy the whole building the individual studios are being offered for sale.  A canal-facing studio will cost an investor £58,495 and offers a 9% net rental yield.  These are being marketed by companies that will also sell you an airport car parking space as an income source.  Clearly the largest component that the student is paying for is the combination of capital and investment cost.  A young Scottish student in Edinburgh would find that standard cluster room in Wellgate House costs £115 more than their combined bursary & loan, where £5640 is going into the finance of the block.

There’s money to be made here.  There are plenty of reports of whole developments being sold, for example in Birmingham, Bournemouth and Cardiff, and Ardent (which has a portfolio of 25 student accommodation buildings) was sold to Singapore’s state investment fund Temasek .

*Update* First, Unite announced that it had bought Aston’s Student Village, with over 3000 rooms working with another Singaporean sovereign wealth fund and the next week it announced that they were selling 4175 rooms spread over 13 properties in order to balance that.  Big money is moving around student accommodation.

Why residence matters

Nick Hillman has questioned why we have moved so firmly to a boarding school model of higher education, and I think the answers are mostly historical.  The new ‘civic’ universities in the 19th century turned away from the residential university model associated with Oxford and Cambridge for good reasons.  The founders of UCL were very clear, living at home would be more affordable and parents could maintain supervision of their children (and therefore attend to their religion and morality).  The expense of the older universities was ruinous (and the morality could be too).  In their prospectus they worked out how many families lived within a commutable distance to Bloomsbury.

However, one of the main lines of assault on the ‘modern’ universities was that their students did not live the full life of a student in residence.  Clearly this was a coded reference to their difference from Oxford and Cambridge, and after the First World War a consensus was reached between the UGC and NUS that this was the preferred model.  The only university to get a charter between the wars was Reading, which had committed to a residential mode.  The UGC’s 1930 report on universities was clear:

The common life of a residential hall, with the invaluable opportunities it affords for mixing with and learning from students of different tastes and bents of mind is an advantage which we should be glad to see within the reach of as many students as possible. (UGC 1930 p42)

The 1957 Nibblet report confirmed the advantages of the residential model noting that halls had a role of great importance to play in the wider education of students.  They noted that fewer students were living at home (in 1934 44% of students lived at home, in 1956 that was 27%), but lodgings were not capable of breaking the model of a ‘nine to five’ mentality – ‘the great enemy of university education’ (UGC 1957 p9).  The UGC committed to provide capital funds to build halls for both new universities and expanding civic universities.  As halls were designed to bring students together, the UGC adhered to strict specifications – universities were not allowed to build luxury blocks.

It was well known that universities did have luxury blocks of accommodation.  Some of our most celebrated collegiate buildings come from a boom in building student accommodation.  In the eighteenth century Colleges, which had  mainly been founded to support poor students, found that recruiting gentlemen and the nobility was a successful strategy.  Although the students were not generally that interested in taking their degrees, they were able to be charged higher fees for both their course and for their board and lodging.   In order to attract these richer students, Colleges put up buildings that looked far less like the monastic quarters of their medieval predecessors and much more like the stately homes the students might be coming from.  The expense of university living went up, not least as students were expected to provide their own furnishings (including the panelling) – or at least buy it from the previous occupant.


New Building, Magdalen College Oxford

The increase in richer students was matched with a decline in poorer students.  Universities recorded the students’ status, and matriculation rolls show a marked falling in the number of plebeians, even those working their way through as servitors (literally being servants to the gentlemen students).

It was this expense that UCL’s founders were trying to avoid.  As capital grants gave way to self-financing, universities sensibly opted to band their accommodation by price; why should a student with a bigger room or an en suite bathroom pay the same as someone in a standard room. It is clear the availability of private accommodation has accentuated this (and not just the absurdity of student accommodation on Park Lane).  While not every development is aiming at luxury, it is clear that the justification for a higher rent is an increased focus on facilities; gyms, cinemas etc. In some developments, only richer students will be able to afford this, creating our own gated communities in universities.   That sense of all students together in a hall will be lost, both as there’s greater physical separation into studios but also on affordability, segmenting our student communities.  Meanwhile a large amount of money flows from student maintenance loans into the hands of property developers and institutional investors.

For Harold Silver, these things were interlinked.  Before private companies came to dominate, he saw that self-funding (including through PFI) meant that universities were abandoning a tradition of residence,  such that universities ‘need no longer see accommodation in an educational context, only as an essential for competitive recruitment’ (Silver, 2007, p99).   Outsourcing has led to cost inflation and, while facilities might be as good as they’ve ever been, maybe something important has been lost.


UGC, 1930, Report including returns from Universities and University Colleges in receipt of Treasury Grant Academic Year 1928-29, London, HMSO

UGC, 1957 Report of the sub-committee on Halls of Residence, London, HMSO

Silver, H, 2007, Tradition and Higher Education, Winchester, Winchester University Press