Regulator plans tougher minimum standards in higher education

A consultation launched by the Office for Students (OfS) today sets out initial proposals to raise the bar on quality and standards in higher education.

Image of university lecture

The measures will help ensure that students from all backgrounds can access high quality courses which leave them well prepared for life after graduation.

The proposals would not only raise expected standards for all universities and colleges, but will also enable effective and robust action when quality slips in particular subjects or for different groups of students.

Following consideration of responses to the consultation, the OfS plans to set new, more challenging, regulatory requirements for student outcomes, ensuring that more students, particularly those from groups underrepresented in higher education, progress to the end of their courses and on to graduate-level work or higher-level study.

The proposals also include new definitions of quality and standards which set out what universities, colleges and other higher education providers would need to do to satisfy the OfS’s conditions of registration. These new definitions, and the other proposals set out in the consultation, are designed to provide a minimum level of protection for all students – whatever and however they are studying – at every university and other higher education provider registered by the OfS.

Commenting on the proposals, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

'The higher education sector in England has an international reputation for high quality and our job as the sector’s regulator is to ensure this continues to be the case. When students embark on their studies, they are right to expect a high-quality course which provides intellectual challenge and the skills needed for a successful career. Students should be provided with the teaching, support and resources they need to take advantage of the life-changing opportunities that higher education offers.

'These proposals strengthen our ability to intervene where we have concerns. We have previously been clear that we are determined to stamp out any pockets of low quality, and these proposals would not only raise the bar in terms of the quality overall, but would enable us to monitor quality at a subject level, as well as taking into account issues which might be affecting students from particular groups.

'We are also making it clear that we do not accept that expectations should be lowered for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. All students are entitled to the same minimum level of quality and outcomes, and it would be untenable to have a regulatory system which allowed universities to recruit students from underrepresented groups but then set lower expectations for their success.

'Our plans – and the more detailed proposals we envisage setting out in 2021 subject to consideration of responses to this consultation – would allow the OfS to continue to investigate any concerns we have about quality and standards. We will be able to use our full range of powers if we consider that any of our registration conditions are breached.

'In setting out these proposals, we recognise the ongoing impact of coronavirus on universities, colleges and higher education providers, and of course on students. We have been clear that we expect good quality teaching and clear information for students about course changes to continue throughout the pandemic. We will draw on our experience of regulating through the pandemic in our future regulation of quality and standards.

'We remain extremely mindful of the need to ensure proportionate regulatory burden. Universities and other higher education providers offering high quality higher education across the board will find that our proposed approach to quality places minimal regulatory burden on them.'

The consultation is taking place at an early stage in policy development so that as wide a range of reviews as possible can be taken into account before we consult on more detailed proposals in 2021.

Read the consultation Read our guide to the proposed changes

For more information contact Sean Beynon on 0117 905 7676 or email [email protected]


  1. The Office for Students (OfS) is the independent regulator of higher education in England. We aim to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  2. The consultation is open from 17 November 2020 to 25 January 2021.
Published 17 November 2020
Last updated 15 January 2021
15 January 2021
Consultation deadline extended

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