The Office for Students (OfS) is consulting on new regulation to protect quality and standards in higher education in England. The new requirements will allow the OfS to intervene more frequently in universities and colleges where courses fall below expectations and require improvement.
The proposals would give the OfS sharper regulatory tools to tackle artificial grade inflation and to take robust action where the quality of higher education slips at a particular university – including where courses in certain subjects or for particular groups of students do not meet minimum requirements.
The OfS consulted on the broad principles of its approach to quality and standards in higher education over the winter. Today’s consultation proposes new detailed conditions of registration for quality and standards. All universities and other higher education providers must meet these conditions to remain registered. These conditions – ‘the B Conditions’ – consist of:
- New condition B1 which would mandate a high-quality academic experience, where courses are up-to-date, effectively delivered, provide educational challenge and equip students with the skills they need to succeed after they graduate
- New condition B2 which would require that all students receive the resources and support they need to succeed during their course and beyond
- New condition B4 which would require universities and colleges to ensure students are assessed effectively and receive credible qualifications that stand the test of time
- New condition B5 which would ensure that the standards of courses are consistent with sector-recognised standards.
Each of these conditions sets out clear minimum requirements that would apply to all higher education courses at all levels.
The OfS’s approach to the regulation of minimum requirements for student outcomes will be the subject of a separate further consultation in the autumn.
Explaining today’s proposals, Lord Wharton, chair of the OfS said:
'Our proposals signal an important step change in the way the OfS regulates quality and standards. They set out clearly the requirements we consider necessary to protect the significant investment of students and taxpayers in higher education. They also provide the platform for us to intervene robustly and confidently where we see evidence of poor quality.
'Higher education courses must challenge students and equip them with the skills they need for a successful career. Students from all backgrounds must be supported to succeed without lower expectations for their academic achievement. The qualifications awarded by universities must be credible to the public, with no suggestion that students and employers are being short-changed by grade inflation. Our proposals are designed to ensure this is the case.
'Many universities and colleges offer excellent courses and protect standards. These proposals are not targeted at them and they should experience minimal regulatory burden as a result.
'But we see too many examples that cause concern. Students tell us about courses that are not delivered well, where necessary resources aren’t available, and assessment isn’t clear or fair. Published data tells us that employment outcomes can vary significantly for students studying the same subject at different providers. The regulator must be able to investigate these concerns and we will do so vigorously. Where our requirements aren’t being met we will be unapologetic about using our statutory enforcement powers and explaining publicly the action we have taken.
'The international reputation of English higher education, whether courses are delivered in the UK or internationally, is underpinned by strong and transparent regulation. It is in the interests of all universities and colleges that there is public confidence in their important work, We look forward to hearing their views, and those of other stakeholders, on our proposals.'
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:
'High quality provision in a range of subjects enables every student to feel confident that their higher education course will help improve their life outcomes and lead to successful careers in their chosen professions.
'Our manifesto commitment is to drive up standards for all so I welcome the Office for Students' consultation on regulating quality and standards which sets out foundations for driving up quality. We are clear this needs to lead to real results for students and universities. This work will go hand in hand with our plans to consult on further reforms to the higher education system, which we will be setting out in more detail in due course.'