The Office for Students (OfS) has today responded to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee’s report into its work.
The OfS’s response welcomes the committee’s scrutiny of these important issues, and commits to making a number of changes to address the Committee’s recommendations.
The response sets out some of the steps the OfS is taking to review its student engagement work, and to continue to increase engagement with the universities and colleges it regulates. It also explains plans to develop its work on the financial sustainability of universities, and underlines the independence of the OfS’s role and its regulatory decisions about individual universities and colleges.
In a letter to Lord Hollick, chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, OfS chair Lord Wharton and chief executive Susan Lapworth, said:
'The higher education sector is critically important to the country’s success and wellbeing. It provides people in communities across the country with the opportunity to improve their lives. It generates huge value for the economy and our society. As a regulator with significant powers over such a strategically important sector, the OfS is rightly subject to scrutiny and accountability, which is why we welcomed the Committee’s focus on such important issues.
'We welcome the strong sentiment from witnesses – students, vice-chancellors, mission groups and sector representatives – that regulation is needed to protect and maintain the standards of this critical national asset.
'The report identified several issues in relation to our engagement with students. As a result of the Committee’s recommendations, we are expanding our existing plans for a review of our approach to student engagement, to consider more broadly the nature of students’ experiences in higher education, and to identify where regulation can address the greatest risks to students. We want all our engagement with students to be meaningful and impactful, and our reframing of the role of our student panel is designed to empower students to raise the issues that matter to them.
'Similarly, we recognise the challenge on our relationship with the sector we regulate. Robust, two-way dialogue is key to regulation that works effectively in the interests of students. We have significantly increased our engagement with institutions in response to feedback, and this will be an ongoing priority.
'The Committee’s report gives further impetus to that work with colleagues across the sector to reset these important relationships. The Committee’s report has rightly given a strong focus to concerns about the current and long-term financial sustainability of the higher education sector. We agree that the sector is facing growing risks and we are retesting our approach to financial regulation in this context, including developing the sophistication of our approach to stress-testing the sector’s finances.
'We look forward to continuing to work with the stakeholders who participated in this inquiry as we progress our work in response to the Committee’s recommendations.'
- The OfS’s response is published by the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee.