If a provider registered with the OfS is at risk of exiting the English higher education market, we can require it to develop, and if needed implement, plans and other actions to protect the interests of students.
This requirement is contained in a condition of registration – condition C4 (student protection directions). It allows us to intervene quickly and in a targeted way to protect students’ interests. Condition C4 does not apply to Further Education Colleges.
We consulted on this during summer 2020.
How does this apply to providers?
Providers registered with the OfS already have student protection plans in place. These plans cover day-to-day changes a provider may make and are public and available to students. They show how students can expect to continue and complete their studies if their course or campus closes.
Unlike student protection plans, a ‘student protection direction’ which might include a requirement for a market exit plan will only be imposed where there is a material risk of a provider stopping all or most of its higher education provision.
Student protection directions and market exit plans
Using student protection directions, we can require most registered providers (see ‘which providers does this condition apply to’ below) to produce and where necessary implement a market exit plan and take other actions.
Without a market exit plan, the impact of a provider stopping its higher education provision could be detrimental to the interests of students.
Registered providers will only need to do this if they are at ‘material risk’ of fully or substantially ceasing the provision of higher education.
The measures in a market exit plan could include:
- Teach out: to enable students to complete their course of study and achieve the qualification they would have expected, or complete the current academic year or term with a credit to transfer to an alternative provider
- Student transfer: to enable students to transfer to another higher education provider to continue and complete their studies. Students should be supported with all the options to make an informed choice, and the provider should make sure that the arrangements are in place to support a smooth transfer
- Exit awards: to make sure that students have a formal record of their achievement with the provider that is closing
- Information, advice and guidance: to make sure that students receive information and guidance in relation to the circumstances they face.
We can use student protection directions to require a provider to put in place additional measures that are designed to protect students’ interests.
They can also be used to prevent a provider from undertaking specific actions that may be detrimental to students.
If we judge that it is in the interest of students that the information in a market exit plan be publicly available, we can direct the higher education provider to publish its market exit plan.
Why has the OfS introduced this condition?
The purpose of this condition is to make sure that we can intervene quickly and in a targeted way to protect the interests of students where a provider is at ‘material risk’ of exiting the higher education market (we refer to this as ‘ceasing the provision of higher education’).
The condition is narrowly focused and would not be used in relation to routine decisions that a higher education provider might have to make, (for example course closures).
We expect that most registered providers will not be subject to student protection directions.
Find out more about this condition and our general regulatory approach:
Frequently asked questions
The condition applies to all registered providers in the Approved and Approved (fee cap) categories except for those that are Further Education Bodies, as defined by the Technical and Further Education Act 2017.
Student protection directions can only be imposed on providers that we judge to be at material risk of fully or substantially ceasing the provision of higher education.
We cannot apply them to providers that are not judged to be at market exit risk.
When we are considering whether a provider is at material risk of market exit we will look at all relevant factors.
For example, we might consider a provider is at material risk of ceasing the provision of higher education if it cannot demonstrate that it has access to sufficient funds to continue operating.
A provider may also be required by law to cease operating, for example, if it becomes insolvent.
When we are considering whether it is necessary to impose a student protection direction, we will look at all relevant factors. This includes whether the measures are proportionate in the context of the provider’s market exit risk.
In making these decisions, we will place particular weight on the importance of protecting the interests of current and future students.
The purpose of a student protection plan is to preserve the continuation and quality of study for all the provider’s students, whenever a risk to the continued study of students crystallises. For example, in relation to routine decisions to close courses as part of a normal portfolio review.
Market exit plans focus on the specific actions that would be necessary, should a provider cease to deliver higher education, including in relation to student protection measures.
This includes making sure that students can complete their intended course of study, or ensuring that all students receive effective information, advice, guidance and support.
Condition C4 (student protection directions) is an ongoing condition of registration and will be effective from 1 April 2021.
We recognise that requiring a provider to publish a market exit plan (or other information about student protection measures), may have an adverse affect. But publishing this information is sometimes in the public interest.
Where we judge that the publication of a market exit plan or information about student protection measures is in the public interest, for example where it is in the interest of current or future students to have that information, we are likely to direct a provider to publish this information.