Another review of OfS next year

The Christmas present we all hoped for? Or just a long-expected stocking filler?

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

If you have had your fill of review of the Office for Students this term, I do apologise, but the Department for Education Triennial Review documentation has just landed.

We get an overarching description, and more detailed terms of reference.

The underpinning principles of the review are pretty standard and as Wonkhe previously reported – DfE will examine, under an independent chair, aspects of the regulators efficiency, accountability, governance and efficacy.

Efficiency looks at financial management at the regulator, and at any opportunities for efficiency savings.

Accountability deals with the way in which OfS works with DfE as its sponsor, with a particular focus on lines of communication. This aspect will also consider the issues of operational independence that exercised the Industry and Regulators Committee.

Governance looks at the effectiveness of the OfS board and of board members, and at the appropriateness of governance arrangements for an arms-length body of OfS’ size and role.

Finally, Efficacy examines the purpose of OfS, and the way it performs the duties assigned to it (in legislation and by ministers), the experience that the sector and sector bodies have of the regulator (another IRC red flag!), and future-proofing (there are mentions of the LLE).

If you think back to the first time I wrote about this process, back in 2022, you may recall the “three tests” of an arms-length body:

(i) Is this a technical function, which needs external expertise to deliver?

(ii) Is this a function which needs to be, and be seen to be, delivered with political impartiality?

(iii) Is this a function that needs to be delivered independently of ministers to establish facts and/or figures with integrity?

These fundamental questions are also considered under the efficacy portion of this review.

The chair on this occasion is David Behan – former head of the Care Quality Commission, and probably best known to the sector in his role as chair of Health Education England and as chair of the NHS England Workforce, Training and Education Committee. He will be supported by a team of DfE civil servants, led by higher education specialist Miles Simpson.

Behan will be supported by an independent “challenge panel”, which will “challenge emerging thoughts and recommendations in a rigorous and constructive manner”. Evidence will be drawn from stakeholder engagements and appropriate documentation (which it would be imagined would include the recent House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee findings. It would be most likely that the sector will have the opportunity to feed in via the stakeholder process, but there is no further detail as yet.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the review is the timing – kicking off now (in all likelihood, actually in January 2024) this is substantially later than the initially rumoured September starting point. Milestones are yet to be identified, but we do know that the review is due to conclude in early summer 2024. If you are wondering about election timing, this review should be impartial and apolitical, so in one sense it shouldn’t matter who is in government at that point – but clearly findings may back any rumoured reforms under Labour.

One response to “Another review of OfS next year

  1. Having been involved in a tailored review of an Arms Length Body, the exercise is a useful one revolving around self justification of largely standardised questions. If the Arms Length Body is well prepared the recommendations are usually tweaks to strategic focus practice rather than significant change.

Leave a Reply