The Student Christian Movement (SCM) have warned that an increase in private sponsorship of university places is likely to lead to undue influence from corporations with dubious ethics.
Commenting ahead of the publication of A Level results tomorrow (18 August), they accused the government of paving the way for the privatisation of higher education.
The warning came as KPMG prepared to run its own clearing process following the release of A Level results. The accountancy firm, which is sponsoring at least 100 degree places, has run its own corporate application process in parallel with the general application system.
KPMG has been criticised by equality and campaigners for advising corporations on tax avoidance. Price Waterhouse Coopers is also sponsoring around 100 university places.
The government is keen to encourage more 'off-quota' places sponsored by private companies, on top of a reduced number of public places.
But SCM, Britain's oldest national student organisation, said that academic independence has already been damaged when arms companies have sponsored engineering and management courses.
They gave the example of Loughborough University, where representatives of BAE Systems sit on engineering course committees. Students have said that the case studies are skewed towards the arms industry and that the sponsorship provides a recruiting ground for BAE.
"Arms dealers such as BAE already wield too much influence over a number of courses and departments,” said Hattie Hodgson, a member of SCM’s General Council.
SCM has long supported campaigns by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) for an end to arms companies' recruitment and influence within higher education.
Hodgson insisted, “The government has opened the door to a potential privatisation of higher education by squeezing the number of public places, hiking up fees and allowing corporations - some of them with questionable ethics - to gain undue influence over education”.
She added, “These measures will only exacerbate inequality and social problems in the UK”.
SCM last year led Christian resistance to the government's plan to treble tuition fees in England. They backed nonviolent direct action against the increase.