England’s new regulator has failed to publish the latest tranche of its register of providers amid claims of unrealistic timescales and an overly bureaucratic approach, prompting concerns about potential impact on student recruitment for institutions not yet on the list.
The Office for Students, which blamed institutions for the delay, had told those who applied by 23 May that it would publish a batch of additions to the register in the week of 17 September.
In future, institutions will need to be registered with the OfS if they wish to access public grant funding or student support funding, to recruit international students and to apply for degree-awarding powers or university title.
Those requirements take effect for 2019-20. But there are concerns that, before then, students considering where to apply could make judgements between institutions according to who is, and who is not, on the register – meaning that the delay could have a damaging effect.
There are 110 institutions listed on the register at present. A handful of private providers are included, but the list is mostly made up of established universities.
Those institutions with earlier recruitment cycles – including universities with medical and dental schools – were among the first added to the register in July.
The OfS has either underestimated the scale of the job or is approaching it in a highly bureaucratic and overly detailed way, some believe. There are also suggestions that a number of staff involved with the register have recently left the OfS.
Gordon McKenzie, chief executive of GuildHE, which represents small, specialist providers, said that the delays in processing the register were “disappointing”.
“I hope OfS is now ensuring they have the resources in place to clear this backlog as quickly as possible. The delay affects providers’ ability to compete on a fair and equal basis and, even more importantly, it causes uncertainty for prospective students,” Mr McKenzie said.
An OfS spokesman said that it was “working to complete assessments as soon as possible and aiming to give providers who applied for registration by the end of May a decision by the end of October”.
“We have been conducting rigorous assessments of registration applications, many of which did not include all the information that we needed to carry out the assessments, or required additional clarification. This has meant that we have not been able to complete the processing of applications at the speed we had originally anticipated,” the spokesman added.
“We are working to complete assessments as soon as possible and are aiming to give providers who applied for registration by the end of May a decision by the end of October.”
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that the new regulatory regime was “meant to be more responsive to students and providers, and current teething problems mean that has yet to happen”.
He added: “This shows yet again that the scale of upheaval involved in the creation of the Office for Students was unnecessarily big.”