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OfS Launches Call for Evidence on Funding Distribution to Universities and Colleges

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The Office for Students (OfS) has today launched a call for evidence for views on how it uses its powers to distribute funding to universities and colleges in England. 

Each year, the OfS distributes around £1.4 billion through the Strategic Priorities Grant, which supports teaching and related activities at universities and colleges. The OfS also distributes capital funding to support the building and renovation of facilities, including laboratories, specialist teaching suites and lecture halls, to support students’ education. Recently, the OfS allocated £450 million of capital funding for the 2022-23 to 2024-25 financial years.

The OfS’s existing method of distributing funding recognises the additional costs to universities and colleges that may be associated with teaching particular courses or supporting students, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access and succeed in higher education. The approach also accounts for strategic priorities in higher education, including supporting priority subjects and helping students to continue and complete their studies, and go onto successful outcomes after graduation.  

Through the call for evidence, the OfS is keen to hear how its approach to distributing funding can support universities and colleges to deliver a high-quality academic experience for students. The call asks:

  • What should the OfS be seeking to achieve with the funding it allocates, and how might its approach to funding adapt in the future?
  • What factors should the OfS consider when making judgements about the strategic priority of a course or subject area?
  • Are there areas of important provision that are not currently supported by OfS funding that could be considered in future?

The OfS also wants to hear how its funding could support capital investment, national facilities and specialist higher education providers, with respondents being asked about the impact of this type of funding.

Commenting on the call for evidence, John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: 

‘The OfS is responsible for distributing millions to universities and colleges each year to support students’ learning, strategically important courses and specialist higher education providers. We recognise that the higher education landscape has changed a lot in since our current approach was established.  

‘Could our funding be better targeted to support equality of opportunity for students? What specific types of activity are best supported by the OfS’s funding? And importantly, what’s the impact of our funding on students’ experiences? We want to hear from staff at universities, colleges and students’ unions, as well as others who are interested or affected by our funding decisions. These responses will provide important insight as we ensure our approach to funding can deliver our priorities, and those of the higher education providers to deliver high-quality courses for all students. 

‘We will carefully consider all the responses and evidence we receive as we develop our future approach.’ 

The call for evidence closes on 23 May 2024. 

Sector Reaction

In response to the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on public grant funding, Arti Saraswat, Senior Policy Manager, Association of Colleges said:

“We welcome this call for evidence and OfS engagement with the sector at an early stage of policy development. We will be working with our members to submit a full response in due course.

“Given the changing context of higher education (HE), it is right to question and review how the public grant funding distributed by the OfS can be best utilised to benefit students, taxpayers and the HE sector. There is a need to not only to reconsider the strategic priorities but also the approach to the distribution of funds.

“When thinking about how public grant funding can be used most impactfully, we urge the OfS to pay close attention to the crucial role further education (FE) plays in meeting the skills needs of local and regional economies as well as providing access to HE for students across the country. FE colleges have been delivering HE for almost a century, and there are currently around 100,000 people studying HE in a FE college, and 152 colleges are registered with the OfS.

“Just one example of an area in serious need of investment is Level 4 and 5 provision. The government has made it clear that it wants the number of students studying at Level 4 and 5 in England to increase; FE colleges are the key to making this happen.

“Currently FE colleges deliver 80% of Level 4 Higher National Certificates (HNCs), and 53% of Level 5 Higher National Diplomas (HNDs). However, given the current conditions, offering new and often high-cost provision at Levels 4 and 5 is financially risky and unattractive. We have been clear that colleges are in desperate need of sustained levels of funding to ensure they have the expertise and facilities to ensure as many students as possible benefit from these qualifications.”

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