Coming soon from the Office for Students

The OfS Business Plan has a list of coming attractions - we pick out the ones to watch

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

We know what the OfS will be doing next summer.

That’s because they’ve helpfully listed planned activities in the OfS Business Plan for 2023-24, published today.

Before you get too excited about this, be warned that the majority of these commitments are simply to continue to do things that the regulator already does – and even the new stuff is subject to change based on “due regard” to everything OfS currently has to pay due regard to.

What’s new

These are the new and new-ish areas of work that caught our eye.

Quality and standards

The “boots on the ground” quality and standards investigations will continue, with new ones opening where appropriate. OfS commits to using independent academic assessors (though not students, or other independent voices) in these investigations, and to publish regulatory decisions (though not full reports of findings) as a result of these investigations.

Relatedly, OfS will publish a summary of their assessments of student outcomes (the B3 data) alongside updating the data release.

There will be an evaluation of this year’s iteration of TEF – to be commissioned this year (suggesting it will be an external and hopefully an independent evaluation).

OfS looks set to get more involved in transnational education (TNE) – with a new approach to data collection (a consultation in partnership with HESA as designated data body), and engagement with UK and overseas stakeholders on regulatory arrangements.

There’s a new iteration of the degree classifications (including the “unexplained” firsts and 2:1s we all enjoy) coming. There will also be a review publication, detailing concerns about awarding and assessment practices (one is forced to wonder if this is linked to the marking and assessment boycott currently underway.

Free speech somehow fits within “quality and standards” – there’ll be consultations coming on a new regulatory approach following the passage of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – OfS is keen to point out that this will include engagement with students and students unions.

The DfE-supported additional funding schemes for AI and data science will continue, and there will be an evaluation of the joint work with Research England on involving students in knowledge exchange.

One to look forward to – a consultation on student outcomes measures for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), alongside generalised “work with stakeholders” on whether the current regulatory approach is appropriate in light of LLE provision (as a stakeholder myself, may I feed in that it absolutely is not).

Equality of opportunity

We got most of the big changes last year, so most of this is about monitoring and evaluating these changes, including the new access and participation plans and the pilot year, the EORR, the associated funding for student access and success – though this latter has been targeted by the government into hardship funds for the past few years.

Uni Connect will continue, with phase 3 results being monitored, and a review of schools partnership activity based on plans submitted by partnerships.

The Disabled Students Commission will enjoy an impact review, and there will be a review of the work with Research England on postgraduate access and participation for ethnic minority students.

And it’s make or break year for TASO – the future funding approach will be determined.

NSS changes will be implemented, but there are notably no plans for evaluation.

There’s a consultation coming on the OfS approach to funding at-risk subject provision.

There’ll be an analysis of responses on the harassment and sexual misconduct consultation, with decisions published alongside. There will be a pilot prevalence survey with a report on results, alongside plans for a full survey.

OfS plans to publish an insight brief on students and mental health, and a digital repository of “what works” evidence. It will commission action learning sets on joint working between student support and local NHS services, and evaluate existing funded projects. Student Space funding will also continue.

Enabling regulation

Student consumer protection cases will be referred to National Trading Standards (now an OfS partner, though the effectiveness of this partnership will be reviewed and an extension may be considered – don’t order too much joint-branded stationery is the vibe I am getting here).

There’s an insight brief coming on students as consumers, alongside an event. And OfS vaguely commits to publishing “more information” about its future approach to protecting students as consumers.

On burden, the intervention strategy will be updated to focus on areas of greater concerns. There will be a bonfire of “inappropriate” registration conditions – with consultations on removing or revising those deemed to no longer be appropriate.

OfS will continue to consider proportionality in requests to providers for additional information.

The love-bombing of the sector continues – more provider engagement including visits from senior staff (put the kettle on!), a more accessible online presentation of the regulatory framework, and a promise to “invite provider views on regulatory burden”.


As hinted in the Industry and Regulators Committee evidence, there will be a refresh of the way OfS works with the student panel. Coupled with this, there will be investment in capacity to engage students more widely in OfS work and more engagement with student representatives.

Finally – software procurement corner! – a new data analysis platform, and new resource planning and management software.

What’s missing?

Most notably, there’s nothing on the cost of living for students, the impact on learning and the student experience, or any thinking on mitigations.

Likewise, though OfS will continue to monitor and publish information on the increasingly perilous state of higher education provider finance, there’s nothing to address the issues caused by this.

The review of admissions (kicked off in 2019 and paused in 2020) now appears to be completely dead, with no planned OfS work on the topic other than a continuation of support for the little-used Discover Uni web resource.

Linked to this – I’m surprised to see nothing on place, regionality, the civic mission, or local needs. I know it may be two prime ministers ago, but this was a big theme in higher education for a long time – OfS has taken a little look at this issue (identifying subject level cold spots) but clearly that is all we can expect.

And there’s nothing on PROCEED/CEED/SPS metrics – despite once making it as far as Michelle Donelan’s mortgage-style warnings this appears to have been a dead end. Those warnings are now meant to use Discover Uni data, but don’t get a mention in this plan (you’d think OfS would be monitoring compliance or something).

Finally, OfS appears to be no longer as interested in senior staff pay – there’s no mention of that ongoing investigation that has seen multiple reports over the years.

One response to “Coming soon from the Office for Students

  1. Also nothing on a Postgraduate Taught NSS or equivalent – which the OfS last ran a pilot of in 2022

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