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The private higher education provider landscape in the UK

Hunt, Stephen A.; Boliver, Vikki

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Stephen A. Hunt


The private higher education (HE) sector in the UK is subject to little oversight or regulation. Consequently, it remains a largely unknown quantity. Yet, the UK government is keen to foster the growth of private providers as a means of stimulating competition across the entire HE sector that will purportedly lead to ‘a greater choice of more innovative and better quality products and services at lower cost’ (DBIS Citation2016a, 8). We document the landscape of private higher education provision in the UK to assess whether private providers are likely to be able to perform the role envisaged for them by government. We analyse data for 802 private providers in the UK collected from provider's websites and other publicly available sources in 2017. A latent class analysis indicates that the sector can be broken down into four distinctive types of providers: (1) for-profit providers principally offering business/IT courses at sub-degree level (c.50%) (2) or at bachelors or masters level (c.10%), (3) not-for-profit providers offering other kinds of specialist provision at bachelors and masters level (c.27%), and (4) longer-standing for-profit providers including those with their own degree-awarding powers delivering courses mainly at masters level (c.13%). Three of the four provider types offer little in the way of traditional bachelor degree provision, and the most common provider type is subject to virtually no regulatory oversight and highly vulnerable to ‘market exit’. These findings cast doubt on the capacity of private HE providers to replace or enhance publicly funded HE provision.


Hunt, S. A., & Boliver, V. (2023). The private higher education provider landscape in the UK. Studies in Higher Education, 48(9), 1346-1360.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 29, 2023
Online Publication Date Apr 11, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date May 23, 2023
Publicly Available Date Aug 18, 2023
Journal Studies in Higher Education
Print ISSN 0307-5079
Electronic ISSN 1470-174X
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 48
Issue 9
Pages 1346-1360
Public URL
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