The Office for Students (OfS) went live on 19 July 2018 with its new Register of English Higher Education Providers. This is a public register which has been established under provisions in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. The Register sets out which institutions have been approved as "English higher education providers". It also includes further details about each registered institution, including its charitable status, level of degree awarding powers, level of award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (Gold, Silver or Bronze) and whether any registration conditions have been imposed by the OfS. In the words of the OfS Regulatory Framework: "The Register will provide a single, authoritative reference for students, business, providers, other regulators, and members of the public about a provider's regulatory status."
The Register can currently be accessed here. So far, 42 institution have been added to the Register by the OfS. These have been given priority based on their early student recruitment cycle. The OfS has stated that 366 institutions have applied for registration, including 18 which are new to the higher education system. Any institution which provides higher education courses directly to students must register if it wishes to access the benefits of registration, such as its students being eligible for student support funding.
Three of the institutions in this initial wave of registrations have had conditions of registration imposed by the OfS, as follows:
- the University of Oxford (in respect of its Access and Participation Plan);
- the University of Cambridge (in respect of its Access and Participation Plan); and
- the Royal Northern College of Music (in respect of its governing documents).
In an article in the Times on 19 July, the Chair of the OfS Board, Michael Barber said: "Today, the Office for Students, the new higher education regulator, makes history. We will announce our first ever register of providers, designed to ensure a system fit for the mid 21st century." He went on to say that the OfS has powers to step in where institutions on the Register "fall short", whether that is in respect of value for money to students, where students are put at risk by poor provision, or where institutions do not draw in talented students from all backgrounds. A number of challenges were presented to institutions in the Times article, including how they would respond to "the growing evidence that grade inflation is accelerating inexplicably, potentially undermining the long-term validity of degrees".
For further analysis of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, see our blog for the Association of Heads of University Administration - The Architecture of Higher Education: Autonomy and Accountability.