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Office for Students' annual review

The Office for Students (OfS) has published an annual review of the English higher education system. The review details the regulator’s work to date, together with an indication of the areas and issues it will prioritise during the coming year. Governors and governing bodies will find it helpful to be aware of OfS’s plans, and some of the potential issues that may arise for institutions during the year.

The Office for Students (OfS) has published its first annual review of English higher education (HE). The review contains an assessment of OfS’s progress in implementing a new regulatory approach, and the focus of its work going forward: The topics covered include:

  • registration process and issues: OfS states that the implementation of an effective and efficient monitoring system will be a major task in the coming year. The regulator notes that to date, its monitoring has revealed areas of concern in relation to governance, oversight and accountability.
     
  • access and participation: for this aspect of HE, OfS is “unashamedly ambitious”, and looking “for a radical improvement in progress”. For the coming year “access and participation will be a priority”. OfS expect to pay particular attention to:
  1. fair admissions and recruitment: during the coming year OfS will conduct a review of university admissions.
  2. better student information and protection: OfS reminds providers that they need to ensure their marketing, including information presented on their website is “accurate and accessible”.
  3. improving the quality of teaching and courses: the OfS plans to consult on whether its “requirements for quality are sufficiently demanding to ensure that all students receive a good education”.

    OfS suggests that in relation to measures of access and participation this is “where we are most hands-on”. It expects to review a provider’s progress in meeting its targets annually.

  • the experience of students in HE: OfS is committed to ensuring all students, regardless of background, receive a high-quality academic experience. The quality of teaching is the most important factor for students in judging the value of their courses.
     
  • beyond higher education – ensuring successful outcomes: OfS sets out the different employment outcomes for various groups completing HE, emphasising its priorities are “maintaining quality and ensuring fairness”. OfS “does not accept the argument that poor outcomes must be tolerated because students come from poor backgrounds”.
     
  • value-for-money (VfM): the tripling of fees in 2012 has increased students’ expectations as to VfM. OfS expects providers to be more transparent in their VfM plans and to continue to monitor the pay of senior staff.

Conclusions

OfS’s first annual report provides an overview of their work to date. As they move from an initial phase of registering providers, the next phase of their work is expected to be about developing and embedding their monitoring processes. The report also indicates other key areas on which OfS expects to focus in the coming year, including continuing to give significant attention to narrowing the gaps in recruitment, attainment and employment between different groups in HE.

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