OfS regulation costs universities £20 per student

The Office for Students has published its annual value for money report with a promise to reduce registration fees by 10% in two years

Universities paid approximately £20 per student to be registered with the Office for Students last year, according to latest figures from the regulator.

The figure comes from the OfS value for money report, which details how the higher education regulator in England managed its internal spending in the 2020-21 financial year.

According to its efficiency metric, the annual cost of registration was £19.98 per student. The regulator has pledged to reduce the financial burden of registration by 20% over two years, meaning the cost to universities should be nearer £18 per student by 2022.

The OfS received an allocation of £26,805,000 from the Department for Education (DfE) for its administration. Of that sum, £26,360,000 comes from provider registration fees. The total OfS administrative spend for the year was £26,645,000, an underspend of £160,000.

The value for money report was published on 7 December. The per-student regulatory fee include the costs of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

The OfS report notes: “Most our income comes from annual provider registration fees. By delivering VfM [Value for Money], we will be able to minimise the costs to the sector.”

It adds: “Delivering value for money in the OfS will enable us to maximise our regulatory impact within a limited resource envelope through improving the way we work and appropriate targeting of resources.”

The OfS regulates 419 higher education providers in England, scrutinising their access and participation, academic standards, students outcomes and financial sustainability. Ministers have also asked them to consider university sexual harassment complaint procedures, student wellbeing and mental health, assessment criteria, freedom of speech and Covid cases.

The government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill will, if passed, give the OfS new powers and responsibilities for freedom of speech and academic freedom on campuses.

Commenting on the bill earlier this year, Nicola Dandridge, the OfS chief executive, warned MPs that such additional responsibilities must be “properly resourced”.

“It’s really important that we have the capacity to deal with [freedom of speech issues] properly without compromising our really important work on quality and standards and access and participation. So this is an area that we will be keen to discuss with government to make sure we are properly resourced to do this work,” she told MPs in September 2021.

The Value for Money report notes that the OfS increased staff pay between 1.65% and 2.65%, based on government guidance on public sector pay.

In a bid to find further efficiencies, the OfS has developed a “value for money dashboard with a range of indicators and measures that assess the impact of initiatives and activities”. It said its activities remain under constant review.

Read more: Office for Students warns ‘minority’ letting students down

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