Students' union guide to the Office for Students

This guide aims to help students' unions, associations, guilds and student representatives explore the role of the Office for Students (OfS). It should help you understand our key functions and what they mean for you, your university or college.

This guide covers:

  • what the OfS is, what we do and what we don't do
  • how we regulate universities and colleges
  • examples of our work in practice
  • how you, as a student or student representative, can engage with us.

Throughout this guide we refer to student representative organisations including unions, associations and guilds as 'students' unions'.

We recommend using this guide as part of students' union officer, course representative and staff inductions.

What is a regulator?

Put simply, a regulator is a body that oversees a particular sector or industry.

For higher education in England, the regulator is the Office for Students.

Other UK regulators you may be familiar with:

  • Ofgem, which regulates gas and electricity suppliers
  • Ofcom, which regulates television, streaming services and broadband
  • Ofsted, which regulates schools and sixth form colleges.

Is your university regulated by the Office for Students?

All the universities we regulate are listed on our Register.

Search for your university or college on the Register

What is the Office for Students?

The Office for Students is the regulator for higher education in England. We aim to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.

This includes prospective and current students who are:

  • undergraduates or postgraduates
  • UK-based or international
  • students studying full-time or part-time
  • those based on campus or learning at a distance.

We are not part of central government, but an independent public body that reports to Parliament through the Department for Education.

What we do

We regulate over 400 universities, colleges and other higher education providers, ensuring that each of them is meeting their obligations to students.

This includes maintaining high quality teaching and ensuring the rights of students are protected.

Providers must meet minimum requirements – what we call 'conditions of registration' – to register and stay registered with us.

Our approach to regulation focuses on two areas of work:

  • quality and standards
  • equality of opportunity.

We also ensure that every university and college has effective governance arrangements in place.

What we don't do

The OfS does not regulate in some areas either because our remit is limited by Parliament or because they are not included in our regulatory framework. Areas we do not regulate include:

  • Student accommodation
    We do not regulate student housing and accommodation, whether this accommodation is owned by a university or college or is privately owned.
  • Research funding
    Research funding is managed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
  • Admissions decisions
    Individual decisions on whether to accept or decline applicants to higher education are made by the university or college an applicant has applied to.
  • Tuition fees
    Decisions about the levels of student loans and finance are made by the Department for Education (DfE).

How we regulate

We take a 'risk-based' approach to regulation, which means we focus our attention on those universities or colleges that are most likely to breach the conditions of registration.

For example, if your university is not making expected progress with the targets and commitments in its approved access and participation plan, we may consider further regulatory engagement or intervention.

We collect information from the universities and colleges we regulate. This includes routine data collections on financial performance and what graduates do after they finish their course.

We may also request information about a specific issue from a provider, or a student might inform us of an issue using our notifications process. You can find out more about notifications, what they are, and what to do if you have a concern, in our notifications guide.

If a breach of a condition is identified, the OfS will consider the use of formal sanctions – monetary penalties, suspension, or deregistration.

Our regulatory framework provides a detailed account of our approach to regulation.

Published 08 March 2022

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