Lecturers’ union calls for urgent action following CoL private equity sale

The University and College Union (UCU) has called for the government to act urgently to protect UK universities from private equity firms after the College Of Law (CoL) was sold to Montagu Private Equity.

On Tuesday, the governors of the CoL announced they had agreed the £200m sale through which the CoL’s legal education and training businesses will be separated from its charitable activities (17 April 2012).

As originally revealed by Lawyer 2B in its spring edition (23 February 2012) the proceeds of the sale will contribute to a fund worth more than £200m through which the charity – set to be renamed the Legal Education Foundation – will hand out bursaries, scholarships and grants for law students.

A new company owned by funds managed by Montagu will acquire the college’s business of selling law courses.

UCU warned that the sale of the CoL – one of only five private providers in the UK with degree-awarding powers – could see more private equity firms move in and attempt to purchase UK universities and that the government needed to ensure that there was clear legislation that would protect public assets in any moves from private equity firms to acquire all or parts of universities.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “It is no secret that private equity firms are circling UK higher education. The government needs to make clear commitments to protect our universities and public assets. It is of paramount importance that those assets and any investment are used to further education, not increase the wealth of shareholders.”

In a statement announcing the sale, CoL chief executive Professor Nigel Savage said: “The market for legal services is embracing new business models and a change in our ownership structure will enable us to access investment and expertise to take full advantage of the huge opportunities in the domestic and global legal education market.”

Universities Minister David Willetts said the buyout by Montagu was an “excellent outcome” and that “this deal will ensure there is a well-funded charity and a successful international higher education business.”