The Office for Students (OfS) has published a consultation outlining its strategy for the next three years.
While the OfS mission has not changed, the OfS states that the strategy signals a step change in its focus and impact.
The first three years of the OfS’s operation focused on establishing itself as the independent regulator for higher education in England and registering over 400 universities and colleges. The OfS’s priority for the next three years is to ensure higher education providers comply with the minimum requirements and to continue to incentivise and shape activity that goes beyond those requirements.
The strategy has been designed to create a plan of action that will guide the OfS’s activities and the OfS has set out goals under three areas of focus. Set out below is each area of focus and the corresponding goals.
Quality and standards
- Students receive a high quality academic experience.
- Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously.
- Securing free speech within the law.
- Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s levelling up agenda.
The document does comment on the fact that the OfS is currently considering their approach to the regulation of quality and standards and that this consultation on strategy is not intended to prejudice decisions that will be made as a result of that process.
Equality of opportunity
- Student access, success and progression is not limited by a student’s background, location or characteristics.
- Students can choose from a diverse range of courses at any stage of life.
- Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur.
- Providers to encourage and support an environment for good mental health and wellbeing.
- Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements.
- Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected.
- The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting the OfS’s goals and regulatory objectives.
The focus outlined in the strategy does reflect the recent statements of the OfS. The OfS is clearly indicating that it will be ensuring providers are meeting the minimum requirements and will use its regulatory powers to do so.
The OfS will take a risk based and proportionate approach stating that providers that represent low risk to students will experience lower regulatory burden.
Interestingly, the consultation states at paragraph 28 that “We do not prescribe how universities and colleges should operate beyond our minimum requirements, and most of our activity will be designed to ensure that providers meet these expectations.” However, at paragraph 29, the OfS will “influence and incentivise providers to perform beyond our minimum requirements”. The OfS mentions some of the tools it will use to do this, including providing information to students to inform their choices, using the OfS’s funding powers to incentivise certain outcomes and by making use of the Teaching Excellence Framework.
The strategy also proposes an amendment to the regulatory framework with the following addition:
“For more information about our priorities in a particular strategic period, please consult our current strategy which can be found at [...]”
This is being proposed to clarify the relationship between the regulatory framework and the OfS strategy.
Finally, Annex C of the consultation outlines the matters the OfS has had regard to in setting out its strategy. In particular, the OfS notes that it is subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty and specifically seeks views on any unintended consequences of the proposals on particular types of provider or student and the impact on individuals based on protected characteristics.
Responses are invited from anyone with an interest in higher education. To respond, the online form must be submitted by noon on 6 January 2022. It is intended that responses will be published by March 2022 with the strategy commencing in April 2022.
Please do not hesitate to contact Gary Attle or Richard Sykes should you wish to discuss anything.