Reducing regulatory burden

Government guidance

On 10 September 2020, the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy jointly released a statement on reducing bureaucracy in higher education and research.

This set out a combination of measures planned by the OfS and actions suggested by the government for the OfS’s board to consider.

On 14 September 2020, the OfS received a letter from the Minister for Universities giving strategic guidance on reducing the bureaucratic burden on providers.

Below we answer questions about our approach to reducing burden and the DFE and BEIS statement.

The OfS recognises the difficulties facing all universities and colleges during this time. To ensure we play our part as a responsible publicly funded organisation, we have announced that we will undertake an efficiency review.

The review will enable us to reduce the registration fees providers pay to the OfS by 10 per cent, in real terms, by the end of the 2022-23 academic year. This will provide some reduction in the financial pressure faced by providers.   

As part of this review, we expect the Quality Assurance Agency and the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as the two bodies designated under the Higher Education and Research Act, to deliver comparable reductions in the statutory fees they charge.

Providers have now largely satisfied the enhanced monitoring requirements we imposed at initial registration, and, where this is the case, we have removed them. 

As we move into a more established regulatory environment, we expect our use of enhanced monitoring, which seeks to mitigate increased risk, to significantly reduce. There are two particular areas where we expect enhanced monitoring requirements previously imposed to remain in place:

  • cases where we have judged there to be an increased risk in relation to a provider’s financial viability and sustainability
  • cases where we have imposed enhanced monitoring requirements as a result of our approval of the access and participation plans submitted by providers for 2020-21.

In the case of financial viability and sustainability, enhanced monitoring requirements remain an appropriate regulatory tool and we will contact relevant individual providers with details of our reporting requirements.

In the case of access and participation plans, enhanced monitoring requirements are currently paused and we plan to collect the information required previously through these reports as part of our annual monitoring of plans. We will confirm the approach to this through our annual monitoring guidance, which we plan to publish in November 2020.   

We will continue to ensure that our interventions in any individual case are proportionate to the regulatory risk posed by a provider. 

The OfS’s regulatory framework says that we will implement a ‘random sampling’ process to provide assurance about the effectiveness of our general approach to monitoring and to incentivise compliance from all providers. 

This process was not designed primarily as a mechanism to reassess risk for an individual provider, but would nevertheless involve significant assessment activity in relation to a provider’s continuing compliance with its conditions of registration.

As we continue to develop our approach to monitoring and intervention, we are considering how best to generate regulatory benefit from our approach while minimising the burden we place on providers. We may in the future decide to revisit the benefits of a random sampling approach, but we will not be conducting random sampling during 2020-21.

The OfS board will discuss the review and options for National Student Survey (NSS) 2021 in September 2020, after which further details will be announced.

Until a formal announcement regarding NSS 2021 is made, providers should continue to make preparations for the survey as usual.

The NSS is a UK-wide survey, so any decision made by the OfS board only affects English providers.

We expect to continue with the technology changes, and changes to the data model, to create a data landscape that reflects the current regulatory environment. We will look again at whether universal collection of individualised student data each term represents the least burdensome way to address our needs for more timely data.

We plan to consult with representative groups on alternative approaches, such as using alternative data sources or targeted collections for specific providers or for specific purposes. We will also take this opportunity to consider the burden created by specific data items such as detailed qualifications on entry.

The OfS will continue to collect annual TRAC returns for the 2019-20 academic year from those providers required to submit a TRAC return.

See clarification on the submission deadline for TRAC returns

However, the OfS does not require providers to submit a TRAC(T) return for 2019-20. 

The OfS will work with UKRI and the higher education funding bodies for the devolved administrations to agree the scope of the review of TRAC, which will be overseen by a joint action group reporting to the Regulators and Funders (Financial Sustainability) Group and cover the components identified in the statement.

The review is expected to focus on understanding the burdens associated with the TRAC system, which is also implemented in higher education institutions across the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to evaluate this in relation to its benefits. It will aim to identify potential for improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of the system in meeting the needs of the multiple stakeholders and users.

The OfS also intends to review its information needs to inform its approach to teaching funding and to provide better information on the costs of teaching provision. The review will look at ways to provide better information and utility from the TRAC system that can support higher education providers in delivering high quality teaching and student experience, while encouraging efficiency and value for students and taxpayers.


Read our news item on reducing burden

Key performance measure 26: Regulatory burden

Find out more about how we're measuring the burden we place on registered providers

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