The sectors of the economy are complicated, and you’ll often find that certain institutions don’t fit one definition completely. A great example of this is education. “Education” is such a broad category – since there are multiple branches, how can you know which ones are in the public sector and which ones are in the private sector? Well, this article has got you covered.
Most universities are part of the public sector, because they receive funding from the government, and any universities that rely solely on tuition fees belong to the private sector. However, most universities can also be considered part of the private sector, because they are not owned by the government. In general, universities are regarded as being part of the public sector.
Don’t worry if you still don’t have all the answers you need. This article will take you through the private and public sectors, and which category universities fall into, including Oxbridge.
Table of Contents
What are the public and private sectors?
In the UK, the public sector is the part of the economy that provides public services – things that anyone can use! These include the National Health Service, housing, public transport owned by the government, and education.
The opposite of the public sector is the private sector. This is the part of the economy that is run by for-profit companies and individuals, that aren’t owned or funded by the government.
You’ll notice that education is included in the public sector. However, different categories of education, such as further education and higher education, may fall into different sectors.
Keep reading for more information on where universities fit in the public and private sector.
Are universities private or public sector?
The question of which sector universities fall into is complicated, and the short answer is that they technically belong to both, or neither. Below, I’ll explain why.
Universities are part of the public sector. This is because they receive funding directly from the government, something you can read more about in this article from the House of Commons Library.
As a result, universities are often immune from taxes. Check out this article from Think Student to discover how taxes may affect you as a student.
However, universities are independent bodies. Public sector companies are usually controlled by the government, but most universities are an exception to this rule.
Therefore, universities are technically neither private nor public, but if they were to be in a sector, it would be more likely to be part of the public sector.
What type of company is a university in the UK?
Before you can determine what type of company a UK university is, you first have to know how they are funded. “Public sector” universities are universities that receive funding from the government and from tuition fees.
“Private sector” universities are universities that receive funding solely from tuition fees. For this reason, all public universities are registered as British charities, as reported by K12 academics. On the other hand, all private universities are for-profit.
For more information about the charity status of universities, check out this article from Think Student.
Unless your university has stated otherwise, it is probably safe to assume that your university is a British charity and receives funding from the government.
Is the University of Oxford in the public or private sector?
As reported in this article by the Guardian, the University of Oxford is a public institution that is funded by the government and its tuition fees.
However, it is also independent and is not controlled by the government. While the government supplies the university with funds, and the University of Oxford is a “public research” university, it is allowed to decide how it is run.
Of course, its decisions can always be subjected to judicial review, but the government is not allowed to decide how the university runs.
Is the University of Cambridge in the public or private sector?
The Guardian article I referenced earlier in this article, linked here, states that the University of Cambridge is a public institution that is funded by the government and its tuition fees.
As with Oxford, Cambridge is a “public research” university, and self-governing. Like Oxford, this means that the University of Cambridge is allowed to make its own decisions without the influence of the government.
This is also the same for most universities in the UK. However, most universities, including Oxbridge, are generally regarded as being in the public sector.