Reluctance to acknowledge poor provision led to the OfS, Nicola Dandridge tells sector

The outgoing chief executive of the Office for Students said her successor would continue to address the imbalance of power that can leave students feeling overlooked

Nicola Dandridge – the outgoing chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS) – has reflected on 15 years of senior leadership in HE during a speech to the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA).

Dandridge, who led the Equality Challenge Unit and then Universities UK (UUK) between 2006 and 2017, told delegates that the sector’s reluctance to acknowledge poor quality teaching in HE had made it necessary to initiate a regulatory regime.

Tripling tuition fees, regulating student numbers and defensiveness about teaching quality had, she said, “led to the inevitable creation of the OfS”.

The outgoing chief executive said that the work of the regulator to “address the imbalance of power between universities and students” must go on after her departure.

It is “precisely the strength of the sector, and the strength of its collective voice in particular,” along with the huge role universities play in students’ lives that make it necessary, she said, “to challenge that collective monopoly of dominance”.

“I do not accept the argument that if you make any criticism of any part of the sector, that means you are somehow denigrating the entire sector. Is there any other sector where that principle applies? Why are we so defensive?” she asked.

Although Dandridge recalled her “sharp intake of breath” when, in 2017, at a UUK conference, then universities minister Jo Johnson spoke of pockets of “lamentable teaching”, she said she had met a “significant” number of students let down. SHE said higher education has much to be proud of but added: “To pretend [poor teaching] is not happening is to let the sector down.”

The OfS must also continue to address “major issues of inequality that are deeply entrenched and which risk making higher education not so much an engine of social mobility as a reinforcer of existing disadvantage”.

Dandridge leaves the OfS at the end of April, replaced on an interim basis by Susan Lapworth.

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

Related news: OfS announces new ‘requires improvement’ TEF rating

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