OfS plans for 2022-23

Everything the higher education regulator for England will get up to in 2022-23

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

Sitting below the Office for Students’ strategy, the new OfS business plan gives us a capsule summary of the year ahead in regulation. The strategy has eleven fairly straightforward goals under the two priorities (quality and standards, equality of opportunity) and one sub theme (enabling regulation), and the business plan sets out the actions that address these aspirations.

There’s a lot in here, and a lot of it is stuff we know about already. Here’s a short list of stuff that made me sit up and pay attention.

Quality and standards

  • The announcement of the “investigations” into problems within business schools is going to be the first of many – a “series” of investigations to conclude by the end of 2022-23 will follow. Not all of these will be announced – only where “appropriate”.
  • TEF is still on track for 2023-24 – this year will see the publication of the specification, call for submissions, the panel recruitment, and the publication at provider level of any data or indicators to be used in the competition. The submission date has slipped very slightly, now early 2023 rather than late 2022.
  • There’s a joint statement across all four UK nations on the quality of UK regulation coming, aimed at an international audience. There’s been sustained criticism of an observed tendency for OfS to diverge sharply from previous UK-wide agreed sector standards and practices (like the UK Quality Code, HESA submission requirements, academic and student involvement in quality assurance) so this will be one to read with interest. OfS will also publish an insight report on transnational (TNE) activities of English providers.
  • The QAA, as Designated Quality Body is due a triennial review. Schedule 4, Section 9, Part 2 of HERA requires that OfS have regard to the views of registered providers, student representatives and graduate representatives in doing this so I’m sure that there will be a proper, transparent, full scale consultation to make the sector’s views absolutely clear within the review rather than it just saying that actually the OfS fancies doing the DQB role itself. We’ve seen from previous consultations that this is an issue the sector feels strongly about.
  • The OfS already has perfectly usable powers to deal with issues where providers may have failed to protect free speech or academic freedom – and will use these to investigate such issues (and will publish the outcomes of such investigations, including I suspect the Sussex one that is currently underway), Subject to the passage (subject to the passage!) of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill and any relevant legislation enacted (!!) it will develop a new approach to free speech regulation – and will involve students and student unions in doing this. Nobody tell Michelle.
  • Funding to improve outcomes for local graduates will conclude in 2022-23, as will funding (in partnership with Research England) to involve students in knowledge exchange activity. Both these will get an evaluation.
  • There’ll be another round of the postgraduate conversion courses in data science announced later in the year.

Equality of opportunity

  • Uni Connect will continue, with phase three launching during the year. It’s likely to include more stuff around raising attainment in schools. Student premium funding will continue too.
  • OfS will “oversee” the work of the Disabled Students’ Commission (Advance HE will continue to administer it). There’ll be a review of impact to determine work beyond next academic year.
  • The “what works” for international students call for evidence will conclude, and the finding published.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any specifically planned work on ethnicity and access, continuation, or progression.
  • There are reviews coming for the processes to join the OfS register and gain university title.
  • Evidence from case work on harassment and sexual misconduct will be used to better understand systemic issues. This, plus the feedback from the recent conference and the ongoing evaluation, will inform future work in this area.
  • The Mental Health Challenge competition will conclude, the Mental Health Funding competition will continue, as will support for Student Space. All three will receive evaluation reports, alongside a new “what works” project to support providers in designing interventions and a scoping study on suicide prevention.

Enabling Regulation

  • There’s a new approach to student consumer protection coming, kicking of with student engagement and a formal consultation. This will revise requirements for student protection plans (it looks like).
  • Final policy decisions on data burden (and by extension, Data Futures, HESES, NSS requirements) will be published. Provider engagement will support this, and there’s also an interest in decreasing burden for small and specialist providers from access and participation planning.
  • OfS needs more capacity to do the “boots on the ground” shock and awe investigatory enforcement work – so I suspect registration fees will go up to cover that.
  • The Designated Data Body will be “overseen”, including work on Data Futures. It will also need a Triennial Review, but there’s no information on that – maybe the possibility of the role moving to Jisc has to be dealt with first.
  • The student panel will meet regularly, which is nice. There’s also going to be regulatory training for student representatives, and polls of students (conducted I am sure in an open and transparent way, with results – including data tables and qualitative summaries – published in full).

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