OfS plans new regulations on free speech and grade inflation

English regulator also says it wants to reduce overall burden on providers

July 31, 2020
Source: iStock

England’s regulator says it will implement new rules on free speech and wants to do the same for grade inflation.

In a letter sent to universities, the Office for Students says it will issue regulatory guidance on “principles relating to academic freedom and free speech, because these principles underpin high-quality higher education”, in the autumn this year.

The government has continued to emphasise how important it considers university commitment to academic freedom and free speech by including it in the conditions for emergency loan funding, which at the same time has raised concerns about university autonomy.

In the letter, the regulator also says it will consult on how to introduce to its regulatory framework a set of standards on grade inflation, which UK universities announced they had committed to in July.

They include putting limits on how often boundary grades are rounded up and stopping the discounting of low grades in final marks.

The OfS will also consult on changes to the condition relating to student outcomes, so that it would “raise the bar for all providers and address poor quality at subject level”.

According to the letter, the regulator plans to take an approach that will be less burdensome on institutions, particularly those providers “that do not pose increased risk”.

The OfS, which has introduced a number of short-term measures to mitigate the risks to the sector caused by the coronavirus pandemic, says it wants to “continue to ensure that our regulatory response is proportionate in these unprecedented circumstances”.

The regulator says it will take into account the government’s views about how it can reduce bureaucracy. It will not “reinstate our regulatory requirements exactly as before” but will ensure that its regulation is “focused where it is most needed”, writes Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration.

In the autumn, the agency will publish revised guidance on regulation and its approach to monitoring and intervention, including reducing “enhanced monitoring”.

Last year, the OfS decided to stop requiring data about estates management and non-academic staff, and it confirms in the letter that this requirement has been permanently removed.

It will, however, introduce an additional targeted interim data collection in October 2020, to help the regulator understand immediate risks from the impact of the coronavirus crisis, as well as continue with its increased engagement with providers that it had instigated during the pandemic.

The letter also says the regulator will relaunch its consultation on monetary penalties in the autumn.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

The OfS is a bureaucratic monster it does not help students it actually means less resources for students as Universities has to employ so many admin types and managers to keep this organisation of their backs.
What is the evidence that speech is not free in universities?
Can anyone give an example of when this "office for students" has said or done anything to the benefit of Higher Education?

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