OfS’ vague costs

June 9, 2016

Times Higher Education’s annual account of the financial performances of the publicly funded universities always makes interesting reading (“University financial health check 2016”, Features, 2 June). This, of course, is information that recipients of public funding are required to report to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The cost of running Hefce itself is easy to find online. It seems to be about £25 million a year, publicly funded through a separate annual grant letter from the secretary of state.

However, despite recent ventures into certain outer reaches of its statutory authority where it seems to have stubbed its toe quite painfully, Hefce is just a “funding council”. Once it is abolished, the list of tasks to be heaped on the shoulders of the new Office for Students under the Higher Education and Research Bill is far longer, and vastly more extensive in its range. How much is the OfS going to take to run? I think we should be told. I have not seen even a guesstimate from the government.

And in future, apart from a limited direct subvention from the government, the universities will be paying the OfS salaries and the costs of the offices from which the OfS will be operating. There will be “registration fees” and annual fees. “Regulations”, we read, “may provide for the amounts of fees to be calculated by reference to costs incurred, or to be incurred, by the OfS in the performance of any of its functions (including costs unconnected with maintaining the register or with the institution in question).” Seems dangerously vague to me.

G. R. Evans

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