England’s higher education regulator will fine Writtle University College £250,000 after a significant shortfall on student outreach spending was brought to light by the institution.
The Office for Students, detailing the “major access agreement breach”, said that it was informed by the Essex institution “in May 2018 about its failures to comply with the provisions of its access agreements for 2012-13 to 2017-18”.
Chris Millward, the director for fair access and participation, then “instructed the university college to commission an independent assurance review in order to investigate the shortfalls between commitment and actual spend, and to submit a report to the Office for Students”.
He “concluded that there had been no deficit in spending on financial support for students, but there had been a total deficit in spending on outreach over the six-year period of £776,120”, the OfS said.
Writtle, which provides land-based, animal, environmental, design and sport education courses, is the second institution to be fined by the OfS. The regulator said in November that it had withheld £66,000 from the University of Hertfordshire’s grant funding for this year because it had “persistently” overcharged students taking a franchised course at a partner college.
The OfS will withhold £250,000 from Writtle’s grant over three years from 2019-20.
The penalty takes into account “the active approach taken by the university college’s new leadership in highlighting the breach to the Office for Students”, the regulator said.
Writtle said that it had since “developed a comprehensive action plan to improve internal controls and ensure that this issue cannot be repeated”.
Tim Middleton, Writtle’s vice-chancellor, said: “As soon as I became aware of the issue and its significance, I contacted the Office for Students and met with them to explain the situation.
“I felt it was important for complete transparency and have since worked jointly with my new team and external advisors to rectify our position. I am confident that our new approach will meet all the requirements of the regulator.”
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