Each year the Chair of OfS receives a letter from the Secretary of State for Education in England providing guidance as to its priorities for the forthcoming year.
For 2019/20, the letter from the Secretary of State giving strategic guidance to OfS was issued on 27 February 2019. The Secretary of State has now issued supplementary guidance that covers the following:
- Grade inflation: the OfS is asked to “support and challenge the sector to eliminate artificial grade inflation and to ensure consistent standards are being applied across the sector.” The expectation is that if OfS finds evidence of grade inflation they should directly challenge providers.
- Essay mills: the OfS is asked to take a “visible lead challenging the sector to eliminate the use of Essay Mills”.
- Unconditional offers: in his letter, the Secretary of State expresses particular “concern about the 25 or so universities who have made conditional unconditional offers in 2018”.
- Admissions more broadly: OfS is asked to establish “whether the current admissions processes serve the best interests of students”. With this in mind, the Secretary of State supports the stated intention of OfS to review admission processes.
- Quality assessment of apprenticeships: in conjunction with OFSTED, OfS is encouraged to continue to develop its work on assessing the quality of non-registered providers of apprenticeships at level 6+.
While the contents of the supplementary guidance issued by the Secretary of State are unlikely to surprise those in touch with previous government statements, the latest letter highlights areas where the government expects to see change. The pronouncements also confirm a willingness on behalf of government to look at detailed areas of higher education and expect action. Governors, if they haven’t already done so, are likely to want assurance from their provider’s management that the institution is unlikely to be in OfS’ sights.