Office for Students

@officestudents sets out how students can register concerns - New guidance issued by the Office for Students (OfS) has outlined how it will continue to respond to students, staff at universities and members of the public who have concerns that a university may be breaching its registration conditions.

Updated guidance on how the regulator monitors universities and colleges and how it will intervene, is also published today. The OfS has also launched new consultations on reportable events, monetary penalties and the publication of information about its regulatory decisions.

To be registered with the OfS, universities and colleges must continue to satisfy a range of conditions, including on the quality of teaching, access and participation and financial sustainability.

The OfS is regularly told about concerns about higher education providers from students, their parents, staff and others – known as ‘notifications’ in the regulatory framework.

For example, students may wish to tell the OfS that they have not received the teaching they were promised, or that their course is being closed without a suitable alternative being offered. A member of staff at a provider may wish to make a notification about the misuse of public funding, or conflicts of interest in the provider’s decision-making processes.

The OfS can investigate further where it receives information suggesting a provider may not be complying with its requirements. Where regulatory action is needed, the OfS has a range of powers available, including requiring specific action from universities or colleges, issuing fines, or removing providers from the register.

The OfS will also be working with students’ unions and other student bodies to ensure they know what sort of issues can be considered through the notifications process – and how to raise these with the regulator.

Susan Lapworth, director of regulation at the Office for Students, said:

“The OfS has registered over 400 universities and colleges, which all satisfied a range of requirements designed to protect students and ensure they receive a high-quality education. However, it is important that universities and colleges continue to meet these requirements – we are monitoring them on an ongoing basis to ensure this is the case. An important part of this is remaining open to concerns from students, staff and others. We will always carefully assess any concerns that are raised with us and can, where appropriate, investigate and take action.”

“Students are at the heart of everything we do. Today’s publications are a key part of setting out our regulatory approach for the longer term, and delivering on our goal that all students, from all backgrounds, have a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.”

The OfS has also published updated guidance on how it will monitor compliance with ongoing conditions of registration and the action it may take if it is concerned about non-compliance.

The guidance outlines a risk-based approach, in which attention is focused on those universities and colleges that present most risk to students. In practice, this means that well run universities that offer high quality courses and deliver successful outcomes for students are likely to experience less regulation.

The OfS is also seeking views from higher education providers, students and others on a number of issues as it develops its approach to monitoring and intervention.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the OfS suspended some of its regulatory requirements while providers adapted rapidly to the changed environment. The OfS plans a phased resumption and will not reinstate requirements exactly as before. Instead, it will draw on the experience of the last two years and target its work to ensure that it is focused where it is most needed. This revised approach reflects its commitment that providers that do not pose specific increased risk should have less regulatory burden.

In three consultations, issued today, the OfS welcomes views on:

  • Reportable events: Each registered provider is required to report certain events to the OfS, for example matters relating to financial sustainability or the closure of a campus, department or subject area. The OfS is seeking views on the way it defines a ‘reportable event’ in the regulatory framework and on revised guidance to help providers to understand and meet the OfS’s reporting requirements.
  • Approach to monetary penalties: The OfS has the power to impose a fine on a university or college where one of the conditions of its registration has been breached. It may, in particular, do this where it considers it important to incentivise compliance from all universities and colleges. This consultation is on a proposed approach to determining the level of a monetary penalty, including any discount for early settlement, and our approach to the recovery of costs relating to the imposition of sanctions.
  • Approach to publishing information about registered providers: The OfS is required to have regard to the principles of best regulatory practice, including the principles that regulatory activities should be transparent and accountable. This means that it routinely considers whether it would be appropriate to publish information about its regulatory decisions, including information that an individual provider may prefer remained confidential. The regulator is seeking views on a proposed general policy for the publication of information about particular providers and individuals connected with them where that information is relevant to our regulation.

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