Dear John: all universities are private not public!
I hate to nit-pick, but John Denham would do well to remember that there is no such thing as a public university in the UK. Instead all universities are private institutions which are supposed to share the following characteristics: a legally independent corporate structure; charitable status; and accountability through a governing body which carries ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the institution. To be clear, they are all legally recognised as private and not public institutions – a fact which I recommend all politicians should take into account when either speaking in Parliament or designing new public policies.
Those who are interested in knowing more about how government intervention continues to undermine the independence and autonomy of private institutions in higher education should refer to Chapter 3.3 of The Broken University.