Regulator puts two-thirds of providers on ‘enhanced monitoring’

England’s Office for Students also says 13 providers are in ‘representations process’ after being provisionally refused loans access

October 30, 2019

England’s new regulator has imposed “enhanced monitoring” requirements on two-thirds of institutions, while 13 other providers are in “a representations process” after being provisionally refused access to student loans.

The figures come in the Office for Students’ analysis of its first registrations process, published on 30 October. Providers must be included on the OfS’ register of providers for their students to access Student Loans Company funding.

The OfS was created by the Conservative government as a market-style regulator, designed to secure consumer protection for students and promote competition. While the previous regulator, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, exercised its powers through control of direct funding, the government decided that a loans-based system required a different kind of regulator with new powers deriving from the registration process.

Providing an update on the huge task of assessing all higher education institutions seeking registration, the OfS says that 387 providers were registered, as of 23 October. It adds that, of these, “252 providers were subject to enhanced monitoring and 297 received a letter directing their attention to areas of concern”.

Concerns over teaching quality and access and participation plans were the most common reasons for the imposition of enhanced monitoring, which the OfS explains as being imposed “where we require the provider to take some action or where we consider that more frequent or intensive monitoring is required to alert us to the possibility of a breach of a [registration] condition”.

Only 12 providers received no interventions at all as part of a registration decision, says the OfS analysis. “This number of interventions is in large part a reflection of the OfS’s levels of ambition and challenge in relation to access and participation,” it adds.

Meanwhile, the OfS analysis also clarifies the position on those institutions refused, or provisionally refused, registration – likely to be for-profit colleges or further education colleges.

It says that eight applications have been refused (although so far only six of these refusal decisions have been published by the OfS), while another 13 providers “are in a representations process regarding a provisional refusal of registration decision”.

Times Higher Education reported earlier this month that the OfS had acknowledged that it faces “several legal challenges” to its refusal decisions, while one for-profit college said that it has been granted permission for a judicial review.

Across all applications from all providers, the OfS analysis says that “many applications were particularly weak” on student protection plans relating to potential institutional closures; on demonstrating consideration of “value for money” to students; and on responses to the “fit and proper persons” governance principle, where it was “unclear” whether providers “had conducted checks to determine whether individuals were fit and proper”.

The OfS also warns: “Significant numbers of providers had based their financial viability and sustainability on optimistic forecasts of growth in student numbers without convincing evidence of how this growth would be achieved.”

Susan Lapworth, OfS director of competition and registration, says in her foreword to the analysis that the registration process “has been challenging, for the OfS and for providers”.

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