Exclusive: Colleges left in limbo by Office for Students

Almost 20 colleges waiting for OfS registration are still unable to charge higher fees or access public grant funding

A total of 19 colleges are still waiting for OfS registration, required for colleges offering HE if they want access to public funding or charge above the basic fee level

Almost 20 colleges offering higher education courses are still waiting to be registered with the Office for Students (OfS), only months from a new term they should already be recruiting students for.

The OfS has told Tes 19 colleges have applied for registration, but are yet to be admitted to the register. OfS registration affects the HE provision institutions can provide – specifically access to public grant funding, the fee levels they can charge and the levels of student support students can receive. Institutions that are not registered cannot access OfS or UK Research and Innovation public grant funding, or charge above the basic fee amount.


Read more: Refer unsuitable students to FE, Hinds tells universities

More news: Fewer colleges plan to charge £9k tuition fees

Background: Colleges told to improve access for HE students by 2038


No decision made

As of 11 March, 317 organisations had bene registered by the OfS out of 465 applicants. Of the rest, 77 applications were under assessment, while the assessment had been completed for 21 of them but no decision had been made. An OfS spokesman said the number of registered institutions has since risen to 357.

Colleges, like universities, have to set out the fees they plan to charge in their access and participation plan. In 2018-19, 13 FE colleges were permitted to charge the maximum £9,250 for FE courses, while a further 14 had permission to charge up to £9,000. In January of this year, data obtained from the Office for Students showed that of the 60 colleges at that point listed to offer publicly funded HE in 2019-20, only five will have a maximum fee of £9,250, while a further nine were set to charge up to £9,000.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “We’re concerned that some colleges are still not on the OfS register less than 11 weeks from the start of the academic year. We are sure that OfS staff are working hard to clear the backlog but we question the need to make the process so complicated for colleges particularly as they are already regulated by the Department for Education and often only have a few hundred students on higher education courses.

"Colleges have been offering higher education courses for decades and there are now more FE colleges on the register than universities but the fact that it has taken almost a year to complete this process suggests room for improvement”.

Student support

Student Finance England states that, in order to ensure funding is received in time for course dates, new students should complete and submit their applications by 24 May.  

John Widdowson, chair of the Mixed Economy Group of colleges offering HE and principal of New College Durham, said time pressures were increasing on colleges not yet on the register: “Students are going into final assessment now, we are in exam time, and you don’t want students worried about progression. Colleges will be recruiting now.”

He said the progress of registration with the OfS was different to previous systems, and  “some colleges might have found that transition difficult and difficult to understand”. However, he said it had provided his own college "with a good opportunity to test some of its systems and the impact of some of its strategies.”

An OfS spokesperson said: “Applications which are still outstanding may have been made later in the process. In other cases, we need further information to ensure applications satisfy our conditions of registration. We will continue to work to reach decisions on all applications as soon as possible, while maintaining the robust and rigorous assessment process which is vital to reassure students and taxpayers of the quality and sustainability of higher education providers.”

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