OfS funding proposals for ‘world-leading specialist providers’

Sixteen institutions receive this specialist funding – but the Office for Students is holding a consultation to decide if more meet its eligibility criteria

The Office for Students (OfS) has begun a consultation to decide which “world-leading specialist providers” will receive some of a £5-million share of the strategic priorities grant.

The OfS distributes the grant under the direction of government ministers. Setting out instructions in March, then education secretary Gavin Williamson reserved an additional £5 million for specialist higher education providers. The OfS has already distributed £48 million to 16 specialist providers, predominantly in the arts.

The funding is for the 2021-22 academic year. Funding for specialist HE providers in future years is contingent on the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, which will decide the future of the strategic priorities grant.

The consultation will seek to assess if the current eligibility criteria for these specialist provider grants is up-to-date and if more meet the standards required. The last review was six years ago.

This country is home to some of the world’s best universities who teach, support and develop not only our future scientists, doctors and engineers but also those that add so much to our culture
– Michelle Donelan, HE and FE minister 

“There are a small number of world-leading specialist providers which are exceptional in terms of the higher education provision that they offer to students, both undergraduate and postgraduate,” the OfS explains.

What distinguishes them is the “the quality of the teaching that they offer”, “the graduates that they produce”, and their “distinctive contribution to the diversity of the higher education sector”, the consultation explains. The providers span a range of disciplines, from specialist sciences to the performing and creative arts, but their size and teaching models mean they often have higher per-student running costs.

Sixty-eight OfS-registered providers meet the overriding criteria, which stipulates that three-quarters of students study one broad subject area, like performing arts or medicine, or 90% study two.

At the moment, 16 institutions receive funding. They include the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Cranfield University. Other institutions that could bid for funding include Ravensbourne University London, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Norwich University of the Arts, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and The Royal Agricultural University.

Minister for higher and further education Michelle Donelan said: “This country is home to some of the world’s best universities who teach, support and develop not only our future scientists, doctors and engineers but also those that add so much to our culture – the artists, dancers and musicians.

She said the funding recognised “the importance of these providers”.

Nolan Smith, director of resources and finance at the OfS, said: “These providers are often small, and teach subjects which are expensive to deliver. Their graduates go on to make enormous contributions to the economic and cultural wellbeing of society. We believe that these proposals will help the OfS to allocate funding in a fair way, recognising the significant importance of these providers to the diversity of English higher education.”


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