Principles-based regulation: OfS publishes new Insight brief

A new Insight brief published by the Office for Students (OfS) explores the concept of principles-based regulation and what this means in practice, and how it helps the OfS to regulate in the interests of students.

Students in a lecture theatre

The briefing sets out why a principles-based approach to regulation works for the diverse nature of English higher education. The alternative – where universities and other higher education providers would need to follow rigid rules and procedures – would be likely to stifle innovation and not be in the long-term interests of providers or students. The briefing argues that such an approach could also act as a barrier preventing new and innovative providers from entering the market.

The briefing sets the scene for a series of consultations and guidance that the OfS will be publishing in the coming months and into the new year. The OfS wants all students with the desire and ability to go to university or college to have the opportunity to receive a high-quality higher education with successful outcomes regardless of their background. Our approach to regulation is designed to ensure that these two key areas of regulation – quality and equality of opportunity – reinforce one another for the benefit of students.

An initial consultation, currently planned for later this month, will therefore look at the OfS’s approach to the regulation of quality and standards. Here, the OfS will make preliminary proposals about the minimum baseline requirements which are set for higher education providers and how these ensure that students can achieve successful outcomes in practice. This consultation will take place at an early stage of policy development, and we want to test our current views with students, providers and others before developing and consulting on more detailed proposals.

Susan Lapworth, Director of Regulation at the OfS, said:

'This briefing sets out the importance of principles-based regulation to England’s globally-respected higher education system. This approach enables the OfS to regulate effectively in the interests of students without placing unnecessary bureaucratic barriers in the path of universities, colleges and other higher education providers. Starting this month, the OfS will begin a series of consultations which will develop our regulatory approach. All of this work will seek to ensure that students from all backgrounds are able to access good quality higher education whatever, wherever and however they study.'

Other activities planned for the autumn include continued engagement with universities and other higher education providers to get access and participation plans back on track in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Separately, the OfS will consult on aspects of our approach to monitoring and intervention, including the matters that providers must report to us and the publication of regulatory decisions. We will also relaunch our consultation on monetary penalties which can be imposed where the OfS identifies a breach of its conditions of registration. We are taking a phased approach to consultation, recognising the burden that responding to consultations can create for universities, colleges and students.

Read the Insight brief
Published 06 October 2020

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