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A beginner’s guide to the English regulatory transitional period

With so much going on, it can be easy to lose track of what to expect and when as the OfS replaces HEFCE, and HERA takes hold. Arthi Nachiappan and Catherine Boyd pull everything together.
This article is more than 5 years old

Arthi was an Editorial Assistant at Wonkhe.

Catherine is a former Executive Officer at Wonkhe.

There’s a packed year ahead for sector regulation in England. We’re entering what the regulatory framework describes as the “transitional period” – a time, potentially, of great uncertainty and confusion. Not until August 2019 will we see the awesome power of a fully operational OfS, underpinned by the provisions of the Higher Education and Research Act.

As a reminder, the OfS has four stated regulatory objectives:

  • objective 1: all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education.
  • objective 2: all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  • objective 3: that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  • objective 4: that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

For the 18-19 academic year, the sector will be regulated by OfS, but under the old rules set out in the Higher Education Act 2004 and the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. The much-vaunted register, as now, will not have a formal regulatory status. The old HEFCE conditions of grant funding will still apply.

This interregnum offers a breathing space – providers will still apply to register from April 2018, and the “shadow register” will allow any issues and inconsistencies to be ironed out. But we still see a very tight turn-around between the launch of registration in on 1st April 2018, and the 16th April deadline for many institutions to make their submissions in support of this. These first 10 working days for OfS as regulator will be some of the most challenging it will face.

But what happens if you don’t register during this period? As far as we can tell, not much. With the old HEA/FHEA regulations still in place, there is no requirement to register – and OfS have cleverly aligned transitional expectations with the existing rules. The Department for Education put together two helpful timelines about how the transition will affect different providers – HEFCE funded institutions and alternative providers.

This month should provide a lot more clarity concerning the way in which the ideas expressed in the regulatory framework consultation will be implemented. The main event will be the response to the feedback elicited during the consultation period. We understand that, for the most part, little is likely to change from what we have already seen – and this will be reflected in the registration guidance expected at a similar time. But there’s a further statement to follow in March – on how the OfS intends to actual undertake these functions once the transition is over.

Remember the idea of real-time data as a regulatory tool? May sees a consultation on the way the OfS will use data – one to watch for those already responsible for institutional data returns. The stated goal of real-time data analysis is a long way off, but expect plenty of common data standards and systems interoperability talk.

Let’s not forget what is happening in other parts of the regulatory landscape. With QAA and HESA confirmed as designated bodies, we can expect consultations on how they will deliver their functions, such as the quality review required to enter the register. There’ll be the issue of subscriptions too. Furthermore, we still have the TEF (and subject pilot), Quality Code consultation, and the implementation of Data Futures to look forward to?

We’ve brought together all the different activity into one timeline.

 Office for StudentsOther regulatory activity
October 201719 Oct - Consultations on the regulatory framework opened.Quality code - UKSCQA launched UK-wide consultation on the new Expectations and core practices
December 201722 Dec - Consultations on the regulatory framework closed.Quality code - Consultation closed
Monetary penalties at OfS released for consultation.
January 201801 Jan - OfS was established in shadow form and appoints board members.TEF - Deadline for applications
23rd Jan - OfS commissions research into value for money led by Student Panel.
31st Jan - OfS Board adopts TEF and reappoints Chris Husbands as Chair.Designated bodies - Consultation outcomes published, OfS and DfE recommend QAA and HESA to SoS.
Monetary penalties consultation closed.
Alternative providers seeking designation for the first time should have applied for designation by the end of January.
All new entrants should have applied for Quality review from QAA to ensure review is completed by April 2018.
February 2018Mid Feb - OfS will publish access and participation plan guidance.Designated bodies - SoS writes to QAA and HESA to confirm their status as designated bodies.
28th Feb - OfS will publish guidance about how to register.
Late Feb - Regulatory Framework Consultation response expected.QAA - European Association for Quality Assurance (ENQA) review takes place
March 2018Feb/March - OfS will publish a statement on how it intends to exercise its functions, and guidance on registration and ongoing registration conditions. Quality Code - New expectations and core practices to be approved by the UKSCQA and then published.
April 20181st April - The Office for Students formally opens. HEFCE and OFFA cease to exist.Designated bodies - Designation comes into force on 1st April.
16 April - Indicative deadline for providers with early UCAS application cycles to apply for registration, with the aim of being registered by mid-July. 2018. OfS anticipate that applications after this date are unlikely to be assessed in time for the provider to be registered by July 2018.DfE - will publish student number controls for designated alternative providers.
30 April - Indicative deadline for remaining providers to apply for registration, with the aim of being registered by mid-September 2018. OfS anticipate that applications after this date are unlikely to be assessed in time for the provider to be registered by mid-September 2018.
Secure OfS portal opens for applications to the new register (expected April 1st).
Transitional arrangements in place for regulating existing providers.
May 2018OfS starts assessing applications for the register.DfE - New provider designation decisions published for 2018/19.
Previously HEFCE funded institutions - OfS publishes requirements for financial and student number forecasts.
Spring - Data strategy launched for consideration.
June 2018TEF - Publication of outcomes for Year 3
LEO - Data release (TBC)
July 2018OfS confirms registration status for providers with courses that have an early UCAS application deadline.TEF - Appeals to be submitted
Previously HEFCE funded - HEIs submit financial and student number forecasts to OfS.TEF - Subject pilot results communicated to DfE
August 2018Previously HEFCE funded - OfS assesses risk from forecast information.TEF - Appeals outcomes published
September 2018Mid Sept - OfS publishes the register for the first time. This will list registered providers and details of their registration for students starting to choose a course and a provider for study from the beginning of the 2019/20 academic year. The register will then be updated on an ongoing basis from this date onwards.
HEFCE funded - OfS will publish Annual Accountability Returns (AAR) guidance and submission requirements.
Autumn - New entry quality review from DQB to be available.
2018/2019Previously HEFCE fundedQuality Code
Nov18 - OfS publishes 2017/18 access agreement monitoring and Guidance.Nov 18 - New supplementary practices and revised advice and guidance are signed off by UKSCQA and launched
Dec 18 - HEIs submit AAR to OfS.
Jan 19 - HEIs return access agreement monitoring returns to OfS.May 19 - New Quality Code management strategy is signed off by the UKSCQA and implemented
TEF - Independent review of TEF expected
HESA - Graduate Outcomes survey launched
August 20191 Aug - The new regulatory framework will be fully in force and transitional provisions will no longer apply.HESA - Data futures to be fully operation in 2019/20
September 2019First registration fees will be charged by OfS to providers on the register.TEF - lessons learnt document expected at the end of 2019.

Is there something our wonks have missed? If you think something should be added to this timeline, please contact us at  

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