Introducing new regulations while cutting funding ‘callous’

English sector leaders fear cuts to London weighting and arts funding could be compounded by fee cut

July 29, 2021
Person behind a fire circle as a metaphor for new regulations while cutting funding ‘callous’
Source: Getty

Introducing new registration rules while squeezing university budgets is a “callous” move from the English regulator, sector leaders said.

The Office for Students said that it would be able to “intervene more frequently in universities and colleges where courses fall below expectations and require improvement” under its proposals.

Although the basic requirements – such as ensuring that students “receive credible qualifications that stand the test of time” and acquire “skills they need to succeed after they graduate” – are uncontroversial on the face of it, there are concerns about how they will be defined and measured. Universities that fall short could lose their registration, which they need to access public grants and student finance, and to recruit international students.

Diana Beech, chief executive of the London Higher group of universities, said the proposals “give us the clearest indication yet that the OfS is swiftly becoming a regulator that is not afraid to shy away from intervention”.

Dr Beech said that while it was right to expect that students should receive the resources and support they needed, announcing the change while cutting the additional “weighting” funding that London universities have long received “appears particularly callous”.

Grant funding for creative and performing arts is also being cut by 50 per cent.

Higher education providers in London will “now have to dig deep to ensure students in the capital receive the same baseline quality of provision and services as those elsewhere in the country”, Dr Beech said.

Graham Galbraith, vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, agreed that the latest consultation “highlights the importance of academic experience, resources and support for students”.

However, Professor Galbraith pointed to the suggestion that the tuition fee cap in England could be reduced from £9,250 to £7,500. If this goes ahead, “then providing these resources and support to students will be affected”, he said.

“This is equally true for the OfS’ explanation of ‘up-to-date’ programmes of study,” he added. “In order to ensure that future developments in digital teaching and learning are incorporated as academic disciplines and pedagogy develop, the sector could need more support if they aren’t to fall foul of the OfS’ definition.”

One expert observed that the proposals were “another in a long line of recent consultations and proposals”, despite the regulator’s insistence that it wanted to reduce bureaucracy across the sector. The new consultation follows last winter’s preliminary consultation on changes to the way the OfS assesses standards. It has also said that the regulation of minimum requirements for student outcomes will be the subject of a separate further consultation in the autumn.

Targeting “low quality” courses has long been a priority for the current government, and the latest actions appear to signal more intervention in universities affairs, the expert said.

“It seems that [the OfS and Westminster] are going to reduce the definition of quality to completion of three-year degrees and progression into so-called graduate jobs. This is ignoring the diversity, particularly regional diversity, of students, and it’s almost like they don’t understand who goes into higher education or why,” the expert continued. “The question will be: are [these proposals] going to do any more harm than good?”

The OfS said the “proposals for quality and standards are specifically designed to reduce burden on providers where we do not have regulatory concerns. Where universities and colleges are providing a high-quality education for their students – as many providers already are – they should expect less attention from the OfS. We have also taken a number of other steps to reduce regulatory burden and continue to look for ways to reduce this further.”

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Reader's comments (1)

As usual the Office for Students is flexing its muscles to justify its existence. Like most bureacracies they will add to the bureacratic burden because that is what bureacrats do. None of this will improve the student experience because it jsut means more costs for universities and more bureacrats to feed the OfS lots of statistics and that means less resources for academic stafff and useful resources. OfS should be abolished.