Insight event - Regulator and regulated: what’s the right relationship?

An event to explore the role of principles-based regulation in higher education, why it matters and what’s in it for students.

The event interrogated what regulation of higher education means, the benefit for students, and what universities and colleges want to see from the regulator in the future.

At the end of an unprecedented and unpredictable year for English higher education, this event was an opportunity to hear from the outgoing chair of the Office for Students (OfS), Sir Michael Barber, who reflected in his keynote address on two years of regulation in English higher education.

Keynotes from Cathryn Ross, Director of Regulatory Affairs at BT, and Philip Augar, Chair of the Government Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel 2018-19, introduced a round table discussion and audience Q&A: 'Who makes the rules? Principles v rules-based regulation'

The panel included Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK (UUK) and Vice-Chancellor and President Brunel University London, and Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, National Union of Students (NUS) Vice-President Higher Education. Chair was Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS.


Sir Michael Barber is one of the leading education and government experts of the last 20 years. He is currently Chair of the OfS which regulates the higher education system in England.

He served as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards from 1997 to 2001 during which time school performance improved significantly. In 2001 he set up the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit in No 10 Downing Street to ensure the successful implementation of the Prime Minister’s priorities in domestic policy including education and health.

Sir Michael is the author of several books, including How to Run a Government (Penguin 2016). Having worked as Head of McKinsey’s Global Education Practice and as Pearson’s Chief Education Adviser, Michael now leads his own company, Delivery Associates.

Nicola Dandridge took up her role as the first chief executive of the OfS in September 2017. The OfS was fully established in April 2018 and is the new public body which regulates the higher education sector on behalf of students. The OfS aims to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.

Prior to joining the OfS, Nicola was chief executive of Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities. Before that she was chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit, the higher education agency which promotes equality and diversity for staff and students. Nicola started her career as a lawyer working in private practice.

At BT, Cathryn is responsible for developing and implementing BT’s regulatory strategy. 

In January 2020, Cathryn was appointed the inaugural Chair of the Regulatory Horizons Council, an independent committee established by BEIS.

Cathryn was previously Chief Executive of Ofwat. She was responsible for ensuring that Ofwat held a £120 billion industry to account in delivering against the expectations of customers, wider society and the environment.

Cathryn is an experienced regulatory and competition economist and has worked across a number of different sectors advising on economic, regulatory and competition issues. Previously, Cathryn was Executive Director of Markets and Economics at the Office of Rail Regulation (now Office of Rail and Road). She was Executive Director of Markets and Economics at Ofwat between 2008 and 2011. She also served with the Competition Commission (now Competition and Markets Authority); and worked in economic consultancy.

Philip Augar is an author and former investment banker. A PhD in History, he has been speaking, writing and broadcasting about the challenges of modern capitalism and banking for twenty years.

He has written six books, including the acclaimed Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism (2000) and his latest work, The Bank That Lived a Little: Barclays in the Age of the Very Free Market (2018). He contributes to the Financial Times and other publications and appears regularly on BBC radio and television.

Philip has held a number of advisory and non-executive roles in the public and private sectors and chaired the panel reviewing post-18 education for the UK government in 2018-19.

Julia gained a PhD in Pharmacology at the University of London, and decided to pursue an academic career. She was awarded a DSc and appointed to the Chair of Pharmacology at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School in 1987 where she became Pre-clinical Dean in 1992. 

She joined Imperial College London in 1997, contributing to the establishment of the new Faculty of Medicine and held the roles of College Dean for non-clinical Medicine, Head of the Department of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Head of the Centre for Integrative Mammalian Physiology and Pharmacology and Pro-Rector (Education and Academic Affairs). In 2012 she was appointed Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London. 

Julia has published widely in her field, served on numerous national and international review panels and received a number of prestigious awards and honours for her work; she was appointed a CBE in 2018 for services to Biology and Education and elected to a Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2019. 

Former roles include President of the British Pharmacological Society, President of the Society for Endocrinology, Member of the Sykes Commission, Chair of SCORE, Editor of the Journal of Neuroendocrinology, Chairman of BioScientifica Ltd, a Trustee of the Royal Institution, Royal Society of Biology and STEMNET and a Governor of St Mary’s Calne. She is currently President of Universities UK, a Director of Imperial College Health Partners, Chair of the Concordat Strategy Group, supporting the career development of researchers, and Chair of the Steering Group undertaking the review of the Athena SWAN gender equality charter.

Hillary is NUS Vice-President for Higher Education. She was previously the Undergraduate Education Officer and Chair of the Widening Participation Network at the University of Bristol Students’ Union.

A champion of students, Hillary has worked on many projects that have looked to support the most marginalised students in education and beyond. From decolonisation to widening access work, she is extremely passionate in ensuring that students are at the centre of education and are the architects of their own education.



Welcome: Nicola Dandridge 


Keynote: Sir Michael Barber  


‘In conversation with’ and audience Q&A: Sir Michael Barber and Nicola Dandridge




Keynotes: What’s the point of regulation?

Cathryn Ross, Group Regulatory Affairs Director at BT Group

Philip Augar, Chair, Government Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, 2018-19


Panel discussion and audience Q&A: 'Who makes the rules? Principles v rules-based regulation'

  • Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, National Union of Students (NUS) Vice-President Higher Education
  • Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK (UUK) and Vice-Chancellor and President Brunel University London
  • Cathryn Ross, Group Regulatory Affairs Director at BT Group
  • Philip Augar, Chair, Government Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, 2018-19

The panel will be chaired by Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS.


Concluding remarks: Nicola Dandridge 



Further information

A video recording of the event will be available shortly.

If you have any queries about this event, please contact [email protected].

Published 22 October 2020

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