It’s alive! A one day conference live blog round up


  • That’s a wrap!

    “It’s alive!” was living its best life yesterday. More than 200 delegates heard from speakers including Nicola Dandridge and Amatey Doku, at the aptly-named and bursting-to-the-seams British Library Knowledge Centre. The event examined the OfS and the new English Regulatory Framework from every conceivable angle.

    Dandridge was keen to talk about the predictive possibilities of data in regulation, pointing to the development of the OfS Data Strategy over the next few months. She feels that regulating based on data can remove bias, but getting there will require some work.

    Regulation has been food and drink to the Wonkhe community since the advent of the Green Paper back in 2016 – this event drew on the close reading of hundreds of thousands of words since then. It feels like a generational change, even though much of what we now see has built upon the 2013 Operating Framework developed by HEFCE and Student Finance England, alongside a variety of sector agencies.

    But regulation has become both more complex, and more public. It seems now that everyone needs to be a wonk to engage with the many moving parts and directions of travel. One key take-away for me was the need to explain systems better – an aspiration both for commentators like us and for OfS itself. It doesn’t need to be this difficult, especially if at the end of the day we’re all really wonking hard for students.

    David Kernohan

    6 years ago
    Mar 21 2018
  • Improving OfS’ relationship with providers

    Question from the floor: The relationship between the OfS and higher education providers is bristly at the moment – how can we improve this?
    OfS independence
    “It’s a tough one because OfS has to demonstrate that it is independent. And it is different – it is much more consumer-focused. We’re only just putting everything together, so I think there will be opportunities to better engage”. – Carl Lygo
    A different relationship
    “This is about a structured relationship and an open relationship – what lots of independent bodies have with their regulators. Why shouldn’t higher education providers have an equally honest, structured and open relationship with their provider? It’s not bristly or antagonistic, it’s just different. It’s about doing that for a good purpose, which is the interest of students”. – Gordon McKenzie
    Reaction to regulation
    “This is just a reaction to the fact that [providers] have some over-regulation now compared with before. The issue is the question of political interference – until the OfS can show that it is independent, there is going to be a challenge.” – Smita Jamdar
    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • The Wonkhe Briefing

    Our latest Wonkhe briefing covering all the action and the important developments over the last few months is out!
    6 years ago
  • Can OfS Board stand up to ministers?

    Mark asks: Does OfS Board have the political will to stand up to ministers?

    “Almost certainly… I haven’t seen any political interference so far. There is an element of politicians dumping their rubbish into the OfS skip, but we don’t have the power to regulate vice chancellors’ salaries – and why should we?” – Carl Lygo, member of the OfS Board.

    6 years ago
  • How should institutions respond to the framework?

    Wonkhe’s Mark Leach chairs a discussion on institutional responses to the OfS regulatory framework, with Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau; Carl Lygo, a member of the OfS Board; and Gordon McKenzie, CEO of GuildHE.

    6 years ago
  • Breakout sessions begin

    We split for four workshops exploring different aspects of the new regulatory framework, including quality assurance, governance, widening participation, and what higher education can learn from other sectors.


    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Nicci Simpson

    Nicci starts with some audience participation. Hands-up if you were an undergraduate (c.98%). Now keep your hands up if you were mature, distance or part-time. Now look round and see how many of you there are (c.80%). Does the current discussion about students represent that latter group? No.

    Strong start. She goes on to ask why the relentless focus on full-time school leavers?

    And then notes the ‘identities’ of different students, where for some it’s their main self-label, for others “student” comes after “father”, “carer”, or “accountant”.

    Mentions how hard it is to Google OfS, with Microsoft Office and Wonkhe topping the search results. Why all the acronyms? None of it currently makes sense to students.

    Also notes most of what she learned about HE policy came from Wonkhe. We didn’t pay her to say that.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Amatey Doku

    Amatey Doku starts by stating the OfS needs to rebuild trust.

    Also pleased that the Quality Code will be adopted (right language Nicola?) by OfS.

    Next he highlights the issues with treating HE as a market, given we now have a market regulator.

    Has a good working relationship with OfS leaders, he was actively involved with student panel appointments (which is why many are from students’ unions).

    Highlights how important it is to decide what’s appropriate for OfS, for student’s unions – is there dialogue that allows the latters’ expertise to be used, and not duplicated?

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Ruth Carlson

    Ruth Carlson explains how she got ‘the job’.

    Yeah why not? was her motto. I’m a student with a gob. I was so annoyed about things as a student I applied for the student panel, after spotting it via her WP team.

    Was interviewed alongside (he who shall not be named) on the 1st Jan.

    The panel research is coming soon, not just a token gesture. OfS is research-based.

    The diverse elected 13 panel members call the shots, the work is yet to come, and it’s the research that she’s most looking forward to, with the board stint soon over.

    Talks of being a student ambassador and the pressure from institutions not to talk about living costs to prospective students (she still does).


    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Students and the Office for Students

    And we’re off with the post-lunch session. Talking with some actual students.

    • Ruth Carlson, Board Member, Office for Students and student, University of Surrey
    • Amatey Doku, Vice President Higher Education, National Union of
    • Nicci Simpson, President, Open University Students’ Association
    • Chair: Catherine Boyd


    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Is there anything to be positive about?

    Roxanne Stockwell thinks that the “attempt” at a level playing field is welcome. John Rushworth hopes that the OfS will be able to help new and interesting providers with different models like, for instance, cooperative universities. Laura Gibbs suggests we simply get on with what we’re asked to do by the regulator.

    6 years ago
  • What about TEF?

    On the question of TEF, Laura Gibbs of Queen Mary University of London says: We’re struggling to see how you could make it a reality, or make it helpful for students.”

    Ant Bagshaw voices his concerns about the misuse of LEO data and incoherence of policy details within TEF.

    6 years ago
  • The problem of student transfer arrangements

    Question from the floor: Student protection plans are only part of the solution to the problem of student transfer arrangements. What role should OfS have in meeting that requirement of the legislation?

    “I’d be surprised if they pick that baton up very much. Once you’re over the baseline the idea is that competition will drive quality – there is not that much appetite to support collaboration.” – John Rushforth, Committee of University Chairs (CUC)

    6 years ago
  • A proportionate-touch regulator?

    Ant asks: How do you feel that the promise of a proportionate-touch regulator has played out in the framework?

    “The number of people you need to have to deal with all these things per student is quite big – that’s disproportionate. Unless they change the costs, it will end up being disproportionate” – Roxanne Stockwell, Pearson College London.

    6 years ago
  • Explainer: What is in the regulatory framework and what does it mean?

    Wonkhe’s David Kernohan takes us through the history of the development of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, and the concessions and changes made in the process.

    David points out that, while LEO data is interesting as an initiative it needs to be very carefully caveated, and explains why differentiation in fees by TEF results would be difficult to carry out.

    The main differences between the regulatory framework consultation and the final product revolve around its remit, registration fees, institution categories (Approved (Fee Cap), Approved, Basic) and the level of student focus.

    What’s changed for the better? What’s changed for students remains to be seen, but there has been an encouraging move towards representing the interests of students ahead of those of the institutions. We like the requirement that all registered institutions need a WP plan or statement, and the fact that it’s a one stop shop: institutions will only have to interact with one multi-purpose regulator.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • TEF, and questions from the floor

    Nicola cites a number of student voices as being more interested in subject-level TEF than in institutional TEF. Their needs would also be taken into account in the redevelopment of Unistats.

    She confirmed that LEO will become a part of TEF, but was not prepared to say that OfS will adopt LEO.

    Mark noted that there is a disconnect between what OfS is about as a regulator and what messages in the press have been – VC pay, free speech, grade inflation, industrial action. Nicola was keen to emphasise the importance afforded to the issue of VC pay in the regulatory framework.

    Jo Johnson was frustrated by salaries going up and up, and didn’t feel that there were any constraints. But the new framework includes action on VC pay.

    From the floor, a question on “regulatory constraints” saw the term clarified as being around regulatory requirements around disclosure. Michael Barber hopes that such disclosure will lead, in effect, to self-regulation – and there is a hope that the guidance offered by the soon-to-be-published CUC code will be taken very seriously. However, if there is a failure to comply with the CUC code this could be a breach of governance and leadership regulatory requirements.

    And on “student protection plans”, a question from the floor asked about how the plans could be limited to avoid dealing with hugely unlikely risks. Nicola highlighted the support and guidance on offer from OfS, and notes that the plan should be risk-based, with risks set and understood by the institution.

    A question on the predictive use of data prompted a response citing the literature in regulatory theory. There have been conversations with regulatory bodies in other sectors.

    A student panel member pressed Nicola again on the perceptions of a move to undermine student unions. Nicola was quick to quash such rumours, but noted again that they could not be a sole route into listening and responding to students. Mark followed up by asking about the development of SUs in APs – Nicola felt that it was an obvious way to listen to students as a collective, but stopped short of wanting to mandate this.

    A question on whether governance structures in institutions could cope with the new approach to regulation was answered positively, but Nicola noted that governance was a big part of regulation and that current structures appeared to be working. The questioner did highlight – when asked by Nicola – the variety of structures in the sector, and the part-time nature of some arrangements.

    And a question on potential institutional failure was the final one – could a focus on student needs lead to a cycle of such failures. Nicola felt not, but again reminded us that the approach to institutional support within the current HEFCE model would continue.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Regulating all institutions, post-HEFCE, and NUS

    It was a difficult decision to lose the Basic registration category – in the end it was felt that the designation offered a “kite-mark” to students that was perhaps not backed up by the level of regulation this would imply. There is a piece of work that needs to be done on how to understand and support non-registered institutions – the long term aim is to bring such providers “inside the tent”.

    The new OfS logo (now confirmed, as is the colour scheme!) will be going up around the offices over Easter. Regulation begins on April 6th.

    On policy, there is clearly a role for OfS to develop policy in the interests of the student. If there is policy that needs to be done OfS will do it, but the policy thinking it will commission will sit beneath a regulatory role and objectives – this will feel very different to HEFCE.

    Mark asked about sector representation on strategic committees, Nicola was clear that the sector would be consulted on areas of policy development that affect them.

    OfS will work with NUS (as on the Student Panel) – students’ unions have a huge contribution to make to sector regulation. But there’s also a commitment to consult more widely, and not to assume that NUS represents all students.

    Mark noted that Ruth Carlson’s appointment on the board has always been interim, DfE would be taking forward a new recruitment process. When asked whether NUS should apply, Nicola noted that we needed to check and be clear about the appointment criteria.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Is trust in the sector breaking down?

    The OfS is not the “glue” to keep the sector together – it needs to remain independent to provide information and support to students. As industrial action affects students, the OfS will support their interests.

    Mark raises the issue of different bodies and departments (OfS, UKRI, BEIS, DfE) potentially pulling in different directions. Nicola noted that it in the interest of those involved to be aligned – she has seen a desire to ensure this in February’s Ministerial letter. Discussions about the best way OfS can work with UKRI are well underway. But it is also up to providers to ensure coherence between research and teaching.

    In a post-HEFCE world, OfS will not approach regulation through the lens of keeping institutions afloat – the student interest will control how the regulator reacts in such circumstances. Sometimes students will be better served by an institution failing.

    Is the data robust enough to make regulatory decisions? Is the burden appropriate? Nicola pointed to the development of the OfS Data Strategy over the spring and summer. She feels that regulating based on data can remove bias, but getting there will require some work. Intelligent use of data could lead to the ability to make predictions. She hints that the Data Futures project will play a part here and wants the OfS to be held to the idea that compliant institutions should see less regulatory burden.

    The OfS will use existing data where possible – and will work with providers in 18-19 to ensure that this approach will work.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • Welcome to #ItsAlive

    The room is full with attendees from around the sector, and Wonkhe’s Mark Leach is welcoming attendees to a full day of regulatory discussion and debate. We’ll be examining the new English Regulatory Framework and the underpinning policy from every possible angle – with an opening presentation to come from the OfS CEO, Nicola Dandridge.

    Mark kicks off by referencing the “Office of Ministerial Control” headline in this morning’s Guardian. Nicola is optimistic that such talk will dissipate as OfS begins to regulate. “It is surely impossible for anyone to disagree” with the OfS mission to represent students. What the new regulator will do is what has been set up in legislation, which is specific about what actions it can and cannot take. Nicola is clear that dialogue with Ministers needs to remain open – and is committed to providing information to students.

    Just to remind you that you can also follow updates from Wonkhe and other attendees on the #itsalive twitter hashtag. And the agenda for the day is here.

    6 years ago
    Mar 20 2018
  • It’s alive!

    The live blog that is, if not the new regime for English higher education regulation. We’ll be live-blogging the highlights from our conference on the issue all day.

    6 years ago