These mechanisms appear to avoid many of the difficulties involved in transferring the valuable power to award degrees, which most institutions have earned over years – sometimes centuries – to new organisations, and offer for-profit companies a way into the booming higher education market.
This could be especially valuable since the higher education white paper, which had included measures to make it easier for new providers to award degrees, has been indefinitely delayed.
"What the College of Law shows is that charity law isn't enough," says UCU's general secretary, Sally Hunt. "The government needs to take urgent action to ensure that public assets and investment are protected and any change of ownership should trigger an immediate review of degree-awarding powers."
The Quality Assurance Agency is also seeking discussions on this with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. "It is an issue we have raised some concerns about," says Stephen Jackson, the QAA's director of reviews. "The concern is that new owners might have plans for an entity which might go beyond those originally envisaged when it was given degree-awarding powers."