Private providers are to compete directly with universities for undergraduate places for the first time after the government announced that it aimed to bring them under the same controls on the number of students accessing public loans, and the same quality assurance regime, as the rest of the sector.

In its long-awaited response to the public consultation on the higher education White Paper, the government says it will create a “level playing field” without primary legislation.

The number of students receiving publicly funded loans to attend private providers will no longer be uncapped, and such institutions will also be brought into the framework operated by the Quality Assurance Agency.

The move has been widely welcomed in the sector because it will limit the uncapped growth of student loan money going to private providers.

The number of students at alternative providers drawing on taxpayer-subsidised loans has risen from 4,300 in 2009-10 and 5,860 in 2010-11 to 9,360 in the first six months of 2011-12.

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