Public-private university partnerships

Public-private university partnerships

The impact of the British higher education on the rest of the world does not need an introduction. Yet, investment is needed to preserve the reputation that Oxbridge built 900 years ago and to respond to high international demand. INTO’s chairman Andrew Colin, saw an opportunity in bringing the private sector into major public institutions to service international students in the UK’s higher education.

Andrew Colin was still in his second year of Law at the London School of Economics when he realised that he really enjoyed setting up businesses rather than being a barrister.

He says: “I was lucky enough to have something that touches me in my life and to get committed in; an idea that took over my life. So I did a very dangerous thing. I left the LSE in my final year – an action that nearly killed my father. Because I knew that I did not want to be a lawyer but I wanted to run a business.”

Young Andrew was aware that it was a big risk he was taking and it had emotional implications to his family: “So, I have always been under a huge pressure. My father is dead now but maybe he would forgive me” he says.

He is very emotional when discussing the topic: “When I went to LSE, I was expecting a lot and I was a bit disappointed. It was not the transformational experience they were talking about. I met a lot of nice people and I enjoyed studying but to be honest the student experience was not great. So, I have always been interested in working in higher education and trying to improve the quality of the experience in total: from the moment of the application to the day you arrive on campus and all the way until you complete the programme.”

From an early stage investor in 1982 who was running education computer programmes for school kids, Mr Colin very soon transformed into a mature businessman. Since INTO’s establishment in 2006, the company has delivered a world class experience to 32,500 students from 83 different countries with China being the leader in recruitments.

He explains where INTO came from: “In 1990 I started a company called Study Group International and in 1999 I sold it to Daily Mail group. At this time, the University of East Anglia was interested in improving its international performance by increasing its undergraduate and postgraduate foreign population. The Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia asked me if I could help and I suggested him to invest at services, facilities and structures. But soon they decided they did not like the idea of outsourcing because they worried they will lose the full control of their academic programme and brand. I started the company because I was asked to by one of the UK’s leading universities and together we created a new public/private model.”

INTO has three different customer groups: students, educational agents and 10 university partners in the UK and USA: Glasgow Caledonian University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of East Anglia, University of Manchester, City University, University of Exeter, Newcastle University, Oregon State University, University of South Florida and Colorado State University.

INTO might receive the best of critiques from those involved in it, but Andrew Colin has its opponents as well- the University and College Union. UCU has been enlisted in the fight against Andrew Colin since the very beginning on grounds of defending the Higher Education system. To the UCU, Andrew Colin promotes the privatisation of the recruitment of overseas students and admits students to national degree programmes through INTO English courses.

Mr Colin replies to the accusations: “Many people who are UCU members are big fans of what we do but not of UCU’s opposition to our existence. The reality is that the UCU diplomacy is to be against anything. We established ourselves as an authoritative partner to internationally focused universities, driving investment and delivering improved performance.”

In simple words, INTO provides pre-degree programmes of academic and language study in an on-campus environment with the potential that students may engage in degree programmes.

Globalisation leads to significant social, political and economical transformations. The way citizens of the world will deal with those challenges depends on their understanding that is nurtured of course within the family, but it also develops through education. The more, individuals understand the society they live in, the better they will manage its progress and well being. According to UNESCO, by 2020 seven million students will leave their home countries in search of a higher quality education and experiences which respond better to the needs of the new world.

Andrew Colin says: “The question here is ‘what is the best way for the private sector to support development in capacity in higher education at times where public funding is in decline?’ And my answer is ‘through private/ public partnerships’.”

“The question here is ‘what is the best way for the private sector to support development in capacity in higher education at times where public funding is in decline?’ And my answer is ‘through private/ public partnerships’”

Mr Colin stops for a while like he is bothered by a thought, and shortly continues: “The universities are big organisations and many of them have been operating for decades and centuries. Actually, effecting changes on those organisations is quite a difficult thing. But within the next 5 to 10 years I am hopeful this will change and adapt.”

INTO now also focuses on China; this time not as a provider of students but as a welcome party. The oldest continuous civilisation in the world and one of today’s fastest growing economies becomes a destination for 260.000 international students annually who want to study at a world-ranked university, experience a totally different culture and learn the Chinese language with lower tuition fees than they would pay in their countries. 

He says: “More and more British students are going to study in Asia and North America. We are helping Chinese universities to develop big undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and deliver those programmes in English. We started with summer courses and we are just about to launch the degree programmes in September 2012/13. Chinese universities want to be a power in the same way America and Britain want to.”

The Middle East crisis has affected INTO’s recruitment from Libya, Syria and other Middle East countries. But Mr Colin is relaxed: “If you are an international business, you have got your risk and diversity. There is always going on something around the world. I am sure interesting new opportunities are going to rise from the Arab spring.”

INTO’s success is based on the theory that no university has the resources or networks to develop to its full potential in isolation. The private sector has a golden opportunity to step forward and demonstrate its ability to respond to the growth opportunities of the 21st century and support the universities by creating sustainable partnerships that preserve the ethos and standards of the best public institutions.
And as Andrew Colin, the inspirer of this co-operation concludes: “What is really not to like about it?”

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