Office for Students sets out slimmed down regulatory requirements during coronavirus pandemic

The Office for Students (OfS) is announcing today that it is refocusing its regulatory requirements on universities, colleges and other higher education providers to prioritise the response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

To reduce burden on providers during this period of unprecedented disruption, routine reporting requirements are being suspended where possible.

While the pandemic is ongoing, the OfS’s primary focus will be on identifying and managing short-term financial risk for providers and protecting students’ interests. Providers will therefore be required until further notice to report on:

  • issues of acute short-term financial risk
  • where they cease or suspend courses without providing equivalent alternative study options
  • where they are unable to award qualifications or credit as they had planned.

In a letter to vice chancellors and other accountable officers today, OfS Director of Competition and Registration, Susan Lapworth, details the revised requirements and stresses the importance of ensuring vulnerable students’ interests are protected at this time.

‘Our expectation is that providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for achievement to be reliably assessed, for qualifications to be awarded securely, and to enable a fair and robust admissions process for 2020-21 entrants. 

‘Providers will already be making these arrangements and we expect only to take regulatory action where we consider that reasonable efforts have not been made or where standards have been compromised. These are extraordinary times for the higher education sector – as for the rest of society – and it is right that we adjust our regulatory expectations accordingly.

‘It is important that providers consider how their responses to the current situation will affect all students and, in particular, those who might be most vulnerable. This includes students suffering from coronavirus or who need to self-isolate, international students, and students unable or less able to access remote learning for whatever reason, together with care leavers, those estranged from their families, and students with disabilities.’

Alongside the letter, the OfS has issued guidance to help universities and colleges understand the issues they need to report to the regulator. The letter also reiterates yesterday’s message from OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge that universities and colleges should stop making unconditional offers or amending existing offers for at least two weeks while exams regulator Ofqual develop a new system to award school qualifications. The OfS has said it will use any powers at its disposal to prevent such offer making during this two week moratorium.

Read the letter and guidance


  1. The Office for Students is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  2. For more information on what providers will and will not have to report to the OfS during the pandemic, please see attached document ‘Guidance for providers about reportable events during coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’.
Published 26 March 2020

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