My Lords, any regulatory system requires sanctions to be effective, and clearly there is general support for the OfS having proportional powers to act against any providers that breach their conditions of regulation. However, it is important from the start that the OfS convinces the sector that it will indeed exercise its powers in an appropriate, proportionate and risk-based way.
Others have mentioned Universities UK. I think it has been working with the Office for Students on the interpretation of these regulations. One of the issues it has raised is that while it agrees that the OfS’s approach to access and participation would theoretically reduce the burdens for providers with a low risk of future breach, it currently finds it difficult to understand the levels of burden in practice without more detail on the risk assessment methodology. Could the Minister provide any more clarification on risk classification and associated timeframes?
In its very helpful briefing on these regulations, Universities UK also expressed concerns about recent media reports about possible recommendations of the post-18 review panel which may, in its view, lead to progress on social mobility being threatened. In particular, it had concerns about leaked recommendations introducing a minimum entry tariff for students in England to be eligible for student loans. All the evidence suggests that a minimum entry requirement based on prior attainment would disproportionately affect young people from the most disadvantaged areas and under- represented groups. In any case, it is certainly my view that prior attainment on its own is a crude measure to judge whether a person has the potential to benefit from a university education.
As the Minister said, in recent years, significant progress has been made on widening access to higher education. It would be a real retrograde step if the Government accepted a recommendation from the review that would undermine that progress in any way.