The Office for Students came into being on 1 January with a mere press release, without even a website. Does this bode well for its organisational performance?
Sir Michael Barber, its chairman, offers a split infinitive in his encomium of the newly completed board. Invigilation of the teaching of the English language at least is clearly in safe hands.
The press release makes the priorities clear. The OfS will be guarding “value for money” by ensuring “that students are receiving a good deal for their investment in higher education”. Specified are currently fashionable concerns “such as vice chancellor pay and free speech”.
Hurry up with that website. We need more information as soon as the board can get its act together and publish its agenda and minutes, as the Higher Education Funding Council for England has done, although latterly with a great deal withheld from publication. It is to be hoped that the OfS will take transparency seriously.
G. R. Evans
Alastair Jarvis offers a cogent analysis in his article “The Office for Students: a new higher education regulator for England” (Opinion, 28 December 2017). It is good to see that Universities UK is taking this issue seriously, as previously there was a sense that it was just going along with all the regulatory changes. I was opposed to many aspects of the Higher Education and Research Bill, but was thinking that now that it has passed into law, universities needed to bury the hatchet and work with the OfS.
Like Jarvis, I was concerned about the confrontational tone of the consultation document. The announcement of Toby Young as a board member astounded me: even before the revelations about his derogatory tweets, he seemed a person who was very unlikely to reassure those in universities that they were dealing with a mature and knowledgeable organisation.
This is not about right-wing or left-wing politics: rather, it is about real concerns that the OfS is simply not up to the job; it was set up in haste, and there is a sense that nobody is in control and that its goals are unclear, except to encourage private providers. We were promised that one role of the OfS would be to improve access to higher education for all those who could benefit, but the impression is that this is just a cynical cover for allowing in new providers who will offer short, non-academic courses that may have little real value.
The appointment of Young is a very bad start, and a huge opportunity missed for repairing relationships with universities. That might have been possible if the OfS had appointed some knowledgeable heavyweights who could command respect.
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