The Office for Students (OfS), set up by the Higher Education and Research Act (2017), is the new regulator for English higher education. Although the OfS officially came into being in January of this year, 2018/19 will be a transitional year whilst OfS exercise powers carried forward from the previous regulator, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). HEFCE’s research functions will transfer to Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The new regulatory system will be fully effective from 1 August 2019 and the OfS has stated that “It will adopt a bold, student-focused, risk-based approach, reflecting the significant changes to higher education of the last 25 years and seeking to anticipate the changes still to come.”
The full regulatory framework can be read here. Further regulatory notices and advice will be published in due course. The OfS will focus on delivering the four primary regulatory objectives set out below.
All students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education:
Are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education.
Receive a high quality academic experience, and their interests are protected while they study or in the event of provider, campus or course closure.
Are able to progress into employment or further study, and their qualifications hold their value over time.
Receive value for money.
In addition, the OfS will seek to deliver value for money to taxpayers who contribute to higher education through public grant funding, research funding and subsidies to the student finance system. The OfS will also work with UKRI to monitor and mitigate the risks to the sustainability of those providers that contribute to the strength of the sector’s research base.
The OfS is required to establish a register listing all of the English higher education providers officially recognised by the OfS. This will provide a single, authoritative reference about a provider’s regulatory status. The OfS has stated that “Applications to join the Register are being prioritised for assessment according to the dates when the provider begins to recruit students. Those with earlier recruitment cycles (for example, those with medical or dental schools) have therefore been assessed first, to ensure that potential students can have accurate information about fees and student loan eligibility when they are applying.” The University of Bath has already applied to join the register.
On 19 July 2018, the OfS published the initial iteration of the register including the first 42 providers to be officially recognised. The full announcement can be read here.