The Office for Students (OfS) has written to all universities and colleges with an update on its approach following the coronavirus outbreak.
The independent regulator said it was continuing to liaise with the Department for Education, Public Health England and other government departments and agencies about providing information and collecting data.
Over the coming months, said the letter, the OfS will:
- support the Government’s objectives by sharing information with providers and enabling them to respond effectively
- protect students by working with providers to develop practical ways to maintain teaching quality and standards, enable adequate exams and assessment, and support financial sustainability
- seek to minimise long-run disruption to the English higher education system – reducing permanent damage and laying the foundations for the sector to recover as quickly as possible once the pandemic is over.
The OfS said it would also be relaxing its routine regulatory requirements during the crisis, and said it would release more information about this over the next few days.
“We are not setting out particular approaches that providers should adopt because we recognise that understanding the local context for these difficult decisions is essential. In practice, this means that we are unlikely to draw negative conclusions about the actions a provider has taken – or not taken – where it is clear to us that it has properly considered the needs of its students and has made a reasonable decision. For significant decisions, this could mean recording the reasons for the decision clearly.
“Providers’ governing bodies and leadership teams will need to make good judgements about the actions necessary to protect the interests of students and, in particular, to ensure that students have effective pastoral support. This is consistent with our routine approach to management and governance matters.”
An earlier notice issued on 9 March asked universities to report the number of individuals in their institution that had either suspected or confirmed symptoms of Covid-19 – this information should now not be returned, said the OfS, “until you have heard further from us.”
All OfS consultations, both new and existing, have been paused, along with information requests.