In her letter to higher education providers of Friday 14 January 2021, the Director of Regulation at the Office for Students has set out the regulator’s expectations of HE providers in this period of coronavirus induced lockdown.
Actions HE providers are to take
The OfS is asking providers to review their compliance with consumer law and then assure their governing body as to ongoing compliance. The letter expressly refers to the June 2020 OfS consumer law guidance and expressly asks providers to:
- Re-test the clarity of what new and existing students were told about this academic year’s teaching and assessment
- Assess whether the teaching and assessment delivered last term was as promised and what students might reasonably have expected based on the information provided
- Assess whether plans for this and next term will deliver the teaching and assessment students were promised and might reasonably expect
If the information provided was not sufficiently clear and/or students are not receiving what they ought, the OfS expects providers to consider what redress students should receive, expressly referring to refunds. If the review identifies potential compliance risks (Condition C1) a report to the OfS should be made but otherwise the OfS does not expect to receive the outcome of the review.
Previous posts to this blog cover the key aspects of the consumer law legislation. Consumer law contains two specific remedies for where the provider breaches a contract for services: the right to repeat performance; and the right to a price reduction. The CMA guidance to HE providers can be found here.
The OfS also expects providers to:
- Inform students of any future changes to teaching and assessment
- Inform students of their entitlement to seek refunds or other form of address if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
- Provide clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of changes to teaching and assessment, including signposting of the route to complaint or seek redress
- Be alert to the need to consider how their response to the pandemic affects particularly students who are vulnerable to disruption.
The OfS’s regulatory approach
The letter declares the OfS’s intention to update the statement of expectations on quality and standards from April 2020 and consumer protection from June 2020. There is reassurance that the OfS is “unlikely to take regulatory action” where the provider has “acted in response to public health advice” and where “reasonable efforts have been made to protect the interests of students.”
The reduced obligation as regards reportable events is to be continued, with the main requirement to submit reportable events that relate to liquidity and banking covenants.
The approach to engaging with providers set out in November 2020 will continue.