Colleges to face tougher regulations when offering HE

Colleges offering higher education are set to be subject to new regulatory requirements from the Office for Students
17th November 2020, 12:01am


Colleges to face tougher regulations when offering HE
The Ofs Is Planning To Bring In Tighter Regulations For Higher Education Institutions, Including Colleges Offering He

Colleges offering higher education may soon face new regulatory requirements from the Office for Students (OfS).

The OfS is today launching a consultation, setting out how it plans to raise the bar on quality of standards in higher education. According to the OfS, the measures will help to ensure that students from all backgrounds can access high-quality courses that prepare them well for the world of work.

The measures will also enable effective and robust action when quality slips in particular subjects or for different groups of students, said the OfS.

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The proposals include new definitions of quality and standards which set out what universities, colleges and other higher education providers need to do to satisfy the OfS' conditions of registration - designed to provide a "minimum level of protection for all students".

Following the consultation, the OfS proposes to set out 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.

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."

She added the OfS was making it clear that it did not accept that expectations should be lowered for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. She said all students were entitled to the same minimum level of quality and outcomes, and it would be "untenable" to have a regulatory system that allowed institutions 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," Ms Dandridge said.

Impact of coronavirus

"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."

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that he was not sure high absolute performance data benchmarks would lead to a fair outcome. 

He said: "OfS's plan to set high absolute performance data benchmarks will result in a disproportionate amount of regulatory work on the institutions who recruit disadvantaged students. We are not sure this would be a fair outcome, so we welcome the fact that there is recognition of the need to carefully consider a provider's and it's students' context and also to take into account franchised courses before making judgements.

"The regulation of colleges and higher technical education is a very busy arena, with an overlap between the OfS, QAA and HESA world on the one hand that of the ESFA, Ofsted and IfATE on the other. Our key test in responding to these proposals will be whether they help improve the choice and quality for students and employers."

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: "We want all university students, regardless of their background, to benefit from high-quality, world-leading higher education. Our manifesto promised to explore ways to tackle low-quality courses, and we continue to support the Office for Students on this.

"I am pleased that the OfS aims to raise the bar on quality and standards. We must have robust regulation of our higher education system, which includes strong action if standards slip and principles which protect students' interests."

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