If you are reading this in Wales, mark 31 July 2026 in your calendar.
This is the date by which the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CETR) will have established a register of providers – the awesome power of a fully operational regulatory system will finally be revealed in the 2027-28 academic year (it’s proposed that CTER uses the current arrangements in the meantime).
This is a delay as compared to previous plans – a statement from Jeremy Miles suggests this is, in part, the result of lobbying (“I have listened to the resounding messages from those most affected by these changes”). Nevertheless, he is clear that he is:
determined to facilitate a smooth and effective transition from the existing arrangements to the new registration system, particularly in terms of the regulatory oversight and the wider impacts on student support and believes it to be imperative there is sufficient time allowed for this to happen.
In the traditional consensual mode of the Welsh Government, there is a series of consultations and draft regulations to feed back on before then. The first crop, out today, covers the categories of registration available, questions of eligibility (including the peculiar historical wrinkle that is institutional designation), reviewing decisions, and how deregistration would work. But the big question up for debate is whether to put regular quality assessment on a (secondary) legislative footing.
We’ll get to that last bit presently, but here are the other measures.
Core or alternative
The intention is that you’ll initially be able to register as Higher Education (Core) or or Higher Education (Alternative). There is scope for other categories as needed, but for the moment you need to choose one only. The temptation for English observer is to read across from the OfS’ “approved (fee caps)” and “approved” categories – and this makes a certain degree of sense (the Core category is the fee limit category) but there are key differences.
The Core category will be restricted to providers that are charities, and must maintain that status to continue with registration. There are requirements around the provision of information to students that apply to both categories on an initial and ongoing basis, and a common requirement on notifications regarding other changes of status. Both categories come with information requirements broadly comparable to what is on the register in England – I do like the addition of an indicator on validation and franchise arrangements (suggesting that the University of Wales saga still looms large).
Welsh regulation includes the concept of an “institution” – ministers have the power to designate any provider of tertiary education as an institution to get access to the same regulatory status as existing institutions. This has been a thing since 2015, and has never actually been used – no providers have sought the comforting embrace of HEFCW via a direct appeal to politicians. The new regulations would simply replicate this route for the new regime – with the codicil that this does not grant any specific rights (you’d have to apply for registration in the usual way rather than walking straight in).
Reviews and de-registration
No real surprises here – if you don’t fancy continuing as a registered provider, or you want to move from Core to Alternative or vice versa CTER can do that for you – it can also chuck you out if it has a good reason to. The stuff up for consultation is on transitional arrangements – ministers could have the powers to, for example, treat a de-registered provider as being registered (including for oversight and enforcement) for the purposes of supporting continuing students. There’s also a suggestion the commission has to, as a minimum, enforce fee limits, require the supply of information, and undertake quality assessments.
Wales currently cleaves, as does most of the rest of Europe and the UK, to the standard international model of cyclical institutional review. Ministers have the power to make regulations to require that this continues, and to set report publication deadlines. What we have today is a draft set of regulations that do just that – sticking to the current HEFCW and Estyn arrangements of “at least once every six years.”
Respondents are asked to comment on the principle that underpins this decision – aligning higher education with other parts of the post-16 sector.
The consultation ends with a series of questions designed to feed in to the government’s impact assessment – including on the anticipated impact on providers, on equality of opportunity, on places, on Welsh language provision. There’s also a call for useful evidence sources for a cost/benefit analysis.