Transnational education: Information for overseas regulatory agencies

How we regulate English higher education provision

After a higher education provider is registered, it must continue to meet the conditions of registration, a set of minimum requirements set out in our regulatory framework. These conditions focus on:

  • quality and standards
  • management and governance
  • financial sustainability
  • access and participation.

Our regulatory approach is predominantly principles based, due to the complexities of the higher education sector in England. We allow providers to develop distinctive and innovative approaches as long as these meet our minimum requirements. We regulate through a set of conditions which focus on the outcomes we want to see for students. These conditions include:

Registered providers must ensure that students receive a high quality academic experience. Each course must be up-to-date, provide educational challenge, be coherent, be effectively delivered, and require students to develop relevant skills.

Our regulatory framework imposes conditions of registration for quality that focus on the outcomes that a higher education provider delivers for its students. They include requirements that relate to:

  • academic experience
  • resources
  • support
  • student engagement
  • assessment and awards
  • student outcomes.

The conditions of registration impose minimum requirements on all higher education providers, and all types of course, wherever they may be delivered.

These minimum quality requirements give assurance to students about the educational experience they will receive and the outcomes their provider is expected to deliver.

We operate a national exercise designed to incentivise improvement, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). Participating higher education providers can achieve awards based on an assessment of excellence in teaching and student outcomes beyond the minimum requirements. Participation is mandatory for most providers in England and voluntary for higher education providers in other nations across the UK. TEF ratings create this incentive by putting a spotlight on the quality of providers’ courses, influencing providers’ reputations, and informing student choice.

Registered providers must ensure that applicants and students are provided with accurate information about their course and the provider, and that such information is quantifiable, timely, accessible and enforceable. In developing relevant policies, procedures and terms and conditions providers must also comply with consumer protection law from the Competition and Markets authority.

Most higher education providers in England are required to be members of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) and to follow the OIA’s Scheme Rules. Students registered at an OIA member provider or studying for an award granted by an OIA member provider can bring complaints to the OIA about the provider, whether that student is studying in England or elsewhere in the world. Cooperation with the requirements the OIA Scheme is one of our conditions of registration. OIA has also published a Good Practice Framework on Handling Complaints and Academic Appeals, developed in consultation with the sector.

A registered higher education provider must be financially viable and sustainable. It must provide evidence that it has the financial resources to provide and fully deliver the courses as it has advertised and contracted. We go on to monitor the financial sustainability of registered providers through the assessment of financial data that must be submitted each year.

Registered higher education providers must comply with conditions in relation to management and governance. We use a set of public interest governance principles, covering things like academic governance and the make-up of the governing body. A provider must demonstrate that it has adequate and effective management and governance arrangements to meet these conditions to register, and stay registered, with the OfS.

Conditions of registration related to public interest governance principles and student support aim to ensure the strategic and impactful involvement of students and students’ perspectives is a key activity in ensuring a high quality higher education experience. Our expectations are that student engagement is meaningful, on-going, and inclusive of all students, including past, present and future. That students are engaged both individually and collectively about the quality of their educational experience and that their voice plays an important role in enhancing the quality of provision.

Find out more about our conditions of registration

Compliance and monitoring

We take a risk-based approach to compliance. We try to minimise regulatory burden and intervention where we judge the risk of our conditions not being met to be low. We have a range of regulatory tools available that we can use to protect the interests of students when issues or concerns are identified.

To monitor compliance with the conditions, we require higher education providers to submit data returns. Providers submit data regarding their transnational education provision yearly through the aggregate offshore record. Providers must tell us the number of students studying overseas who are either registered with them or studying towards their awards. The data is used to understand the nature and extent of providers’ offshore activity and for general monitoring purposes.

Published 01 November 2022

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