OfS bids to sharpen its teeth with new proposals

Consultation is opening on proposals that would see the Office for Students require HE institutions to meet a series of new conditions in order to remain registered

Consultation opens today (20 July) on proposals that would see England’s independent regulator for higher education armed with an altogether sharper set of teeth.

The measures would allow the Office for Students (OfS) to wield statutory enforcement powers when a university’s academic offering is not up to par, and provide it with more robust tools to tackle artificial grade inflation.

“We see too many examples [of low standards] that cause concern,” said Lord Wharton, chair of the OfS, in outlining the need for the consultation.

“Published data tells us that employment outcomes can vary significantly for students studying the same subject at different providers. The regulator must be able to investigate these concerns and we will do so vigorously.

“Where our requirements aren’t being met we will be unapologetic about using our statutory enforcement powers and explaining publicly the action we have taken.”

Our proposals provide the platform for us to intervene robustly and confidently where we see evidence of poor quality – OfS chair, Lord Wharton

Today’s proposals set out a series of new conditions that higher education providers must meet in order to remain registered:

  • B1 Would mandate on academic experience, ensuring courses are up-to-date, effectively delivered, offer educational challenge, and provide students with the skills required for life beyond university
  • B2 The availability of all resources and support needed to succeed must be available to students, both during their courses and beyond 
  • B4 Students should be assessed effectively as they work towards gaining credible qualifications that stand the test of time
  • B5 Courses must be in tune with sector-recognised standards  

Doing nothing, says the OfS, is not an option.

Responses to its phase one consultation “reinforced our view that our requirements for quality and standards needs to be expressed clearly and comprehensively to allow providers to understand their obligations and the approach the OfS is likely to take to regulating these important issues”.

The new measures are “not targeted” at institutions maintaining high standards, affirmed Lord Wharton, “and they should experience minimal regulatory burden as a result.

“Our proposals signal an important step change in the way the OfS regulates quality and standards. They set out clearly the requirements we consider necessary to protect the significant investment of students and taxpayers in higher education. They also provide the platform for us to intervene robustly and confidently where we see evidence of poor quality.

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“The international reputation of English higher education, whether courses are delivered in the UK or internationally, is underpinned by strong and transparent regulation,” he added. It is in the interests of all universities and colleges that there is public confidence in their important work. We look forward to hearing their views, and those of other stakeholders, on our proposals.”

Universities minister, Michelle Donelan, welcomed the proposed measures as being in line with the government’s manifesto commitment “to drive up standards for all. We are clear this needs to lead to real results for students and universities.

“This work will go hand in hand with our plans to consult on further reforms to the higher education system, which we will be setting out in more detail in due course.”

The consultation is open to ‘anyone with an interest in the regulation of the higher education sector’. Responses can be made via this online form until 27 September.

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