Letter from Michelle Donelan to the Office for Students – September 2020

This week saw Michelle Donelan sent her first "ministerial direction" letter to the Office for Students.

That said, it’s the third such letter to the regulator this year. Gavin Williamson opened the batting in January with a note focused primarily on the overall budget, and one Ian Coates (Director of Higher Education, STEM and Tertiary Providers Directorate, DfE) on responses to the fire at residences near the University of Bolton.

So what does Michelle Donelan add to these directions? Obviously, as the sector grapples with responses to a resurgent pandemic at the start of term, the focus is on (*checks notes*) reducing bureaucracy.

Specifically the letter codifies the DfE announcement on bureaucratic burden – translating some of the wider flights of fancy from DfE SpADs into actionable guidance. But we get some funding news too:

  • There’s the £10m of additional formula-based recurrent funding for providers taking larger than expected cohorts of students onto “high cost” courses. Priority is for healthcare and lab related subjects.
  • And the £10m of capital – to be allocated following a bidding process – again supporting the larger than expected numbers of students (prioritising high cost subjects) rather than supporting more general growth. There might be a consultation on this too.

On the bureaucracy stuff, it’s pretty much as previously published. What we do learn is that “Enhanced Monitoring” (that regulatory tool more powerful than the sniffy letter, but less powerful than a full-on Condition of Registration) is only to be used for financial conditions.

The tight timeline on this stuff is emphasised – we’ll know what form the TRAC(T) review (and by extension the UKRI TRAC review) will take by October, the actual review of NSS will report by the end of the year (hence the imminent announcement), there’ll be a report on the use of enhanced monitoring in three months. October also sees reports on the proposed approach to Transparency Conditions (where providers are required to publish certain information, usually linked to Access and Participation), and news on the shape of the new (new, new, new) Data Futures collections – the latter will be finalised in April 2021, alongside a new OfS Data Strategy.

Finally, here’s Michelle Donelan’s signature, for those who like that kind of thing.


Michelle Donelan signs a letter.

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