The creation of the Office for Students (OfS) marks a new era for students as well as higher education regulation. On 20 February, I issued the first annual statement of Government priorities for the OfS under this new regime. This is being published today alongside the publication of the new regulatory framework - a key milestone in the delivery of the programme of reforms set out in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA).
In my letter to the OfS, I set out the following key priorities for the OfS in its first year:
- Creating a new regulatory system and ensuring a smooth transition – I have asked the OfS to be bold in operating the new regulatory framework, explicitly supporting diverse, innovative approaches and championing students. A key task in 2018/19 is to register current and new providers ready for full operation of the framework from August 2019, while continuing to operate the existing regulatory arrangements effectively during the transition.
- Delivering value for money for the student and taxpayers - In order to ensure that all students receive value for money, I have asked the OfS to work with the sector to protect quality and standards, hold governing bodies to account, improve transparency, and ensure good governance, effective and efficient use of resources - including around senior staff remuneration, engaging closely with the sector on its own self-regulation in this area.
- Student experience, quality and choice – Students’ interests should be central to the OfS’ mission. I have asked the OfS to work with the sector to promote a positive higher education experience for all students regardless of background.
- Freedom of speech - I have asked the OfS to champion and promote freedom of speech, including calling out and challenging attempts to shut down debate such as ‘no platforming’. Free speech is essential in ensuring that higher education exposes students to new and uncomfortable ideas, and encourages robust, civil debate and challenge.
- Prevent – I would like the OfS to continue the work HEFCE has previously done to monitor and assess how HE institutions are managing their responsibilities under the statutory Prevent duty, to safeguard students from the risk of radicalisation.
- Access and participation – My expectation is that the OfS will promote access and participation in higher education and that this will be integral to all that the OfS does. I have asked the OfS to work with providers to seek continuous improvement in this area to encourage greater progress.
- Industrial strategy and skills – I have asked the OfS to consider how the higher education sector can further support the Government’s broader economic policy as defined by the Industrial Strategy. Key to this will be promoting and enhancing collaboration between the higher education sector and employers, working with Government on reviewing how funding can be used to stimulate this and on reviewing the impact of apprenticeships.
- Collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – I have asked the OfS to prioritise collaboration with UKRI to ensure a co-ordinated and strategic approach to the funding and regulation of the higher education system in England. This will include OfS leading on the teaching and student elements of the Higher Education Innovation Fund.
- Strategic priorities for funding - The OfS’ funding priorities remain broadly consistent with those set for HEFCE in relation to Teaching Grant in previous years. I have also asked the OfS to support DfE on funding policy issues, including contributing to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and helping take forward the review’s recommendations.
- Developing the OfS – I have also asked the OfS to prioritise developing as an organisation which operates effectively and efficiently, with confidence and independence in regulating the sector, involving students, following the principles of best regulatory practice, and complying with the Regulators’ Code voluntarily (until this becomes a statutory requirement).
This statement of priorities also covers areas where the Government committed to provide guidance during the passage of HERA, such as on managing risks relating to overseas providers.
Supplementary guidance to the OfS
Alongside this overall statement of Government priorities, I also issued the following supplementary guidance on the 20 February - also being published today.
- Priorities for Access and Participation including Access and Participation Plan Guidance – This sets out how the Government expects the OfS to take forward its responsibilities for Access and Participation and informs the Access and Participation Plan Guidance, which the OfS has issued to the higher education sector today.
- Degree Awarding Powers (DAPs) and University Title (UT) Guidance - This sets out the new high level criteria and processes for DAPs and UT, covering: the different types of DAPs authorisations; eligibility criteria for both DAPs and UT; and revocation and variation actions. The OfS must have regard to this guidance when exercising its functions.
- Facilitating Electoral Registration - This guidance, produced by the Department for Education in collaboration with the Cabinet Office, asks the OfS to encourage providers to promote electoral registration, and help them understand potential challenges and risks that arise as a consequence of registering students.
Alongside the announcement of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, this guidance and the work of the OfS reflects the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the higher education sector continues to be world leading, improving the opportunities for and outcomes achieved by all students from all backgrounds.
The guidance documents are being published on www.officeforstudents.org.uk/