The interim chief executive of the Office for Students said she accepts the metrics the regulator plans to use to measure quality and standards in higher education are “only part of the picture”.
Susan Lapworth was speaking at an event organised by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Advance HE.
But Lapworth – who will run the regulator until a permanent CEO is appointed next year – defended the metrics as “really essential” to students and taxpayers.
The head of the regulator was discussing the outcome of an OfS consultation on measuring quality and standards by setting minimum thresholds for student outcomes. Proposed baselines require that 80% of students progress into the second year of study, 75% complete the course and 60% gain “professional employment” after graduation.
Currently, the regulator for HE in England has over 400 registered institutions on its books.
Lapworth told delegates she understands “our student outcome measures may not represent your view of the richness of your courses”. She accepted some in the sector would prefer to “think[…] about and measure[…] value differently and conceded the OfS baselines were “only part of the picture”.
But she rejected notions the baselines were not a necessary or valuable regulatory tool, explaining they would “set a firm floor, below which performance rightly attracts regulatory attention”.
“There are some circumstances in which our student outcome measures are really essential in protecting the interests of students and taxpayers,” Lapworth said.
“We can see large institutions with thousands of students where only 75% of students on a first-degree course continue from year one to year two, or only 64% of level 4 and 5 students continue on their course, or only 65% of taught masters students continue their course.”
These statistics mean some students are “quite likely leaving with disappointment and debt”, Lapworth said, adding: “Many of us would be pretty uncomfortable defending those outcomes and saying that that is okay, and represents value for students and taxpayers.”