Who is in line for a surprise regulatory visit?

OfS names the subjects and the types of provision it will investigate this year.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

The Office for Students has always been clear that there’s no way it can possibly deal with all of the issues it sees in the sector in one go.

Things, after all, have gotten worse on its regulatory watch. There’s a lot to be done.

The recent announcement that it will be providers that pay for investigations takes a bit of the pressure off. Should an investigation find an issue, such that the regulator needs to take (any sort of) action, the bill goes to the provider.

Of course, the professionalism and integrity of the OfS means that there is no chance that every investigation ends in action just to balance the books – so there is both an upfront and long-range cost to getting those boots on the ground. For that reason, each time round the frame is carefully designed to keep a few key issues in scope.

The lucky winners

We’ve just had an announcement from OfS that indicates that the quadrat has been thrown – telling us the categories of provision that will be in scope for the 2022 and provisionally 2023 cycles of assessments.

The first year of work (somehow announced for the calendar year of 2022 – up to 20 providers will get a knock on the door in the next month and a bit). Work will cover continuation, completion, and progression for full time first degree and taught masters students in:

  • Business and management
  • Computing
  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Sociology, anthropology, and social policy
  • Sport and exercise sciences
  • History and archaeology

We knew about the first two, and the third had been widely rumoured. The rest will be a charming pre-Christmas surprise for universities and departments. You’re in the frame if you have a decent number of students (so a poor quality experience at a small provider is not a regulatory priority) a long way from the numerical threshold on a few measures, or if other “regulatory intelligence” applies. And if the OfS is coming to town anyway, it is quite likely they’ll have a peep in a few other dark corners in your provider too.

Moving on to 2023 ditches taught masters students for “other undergraduate”, covering levels 4 and 5 and foundation years. We don’t know which subjects or student characteristics will be in scope – OfS will work some further analytical magic and let us know before the cycle starts (which we assume will be some time before the back end of November 2023).

Bring back subject review

Way back in the mists of time, the OfS’ predecessor body kicked off a cycle of targeted enhancement-focused subject area reviews with details of in scope provision stretching many years into the future. It even improved these by contracting with an independent, sector-owned, body to conduct these for all providers (though not all would require “boots on the ground” against clearly defined criteria and sector-developed benchmarks – with government covering the costs.

Life, as it is often said, comes at you pretty fast.

If you want to work out which providers might be in scope, use our B3 dashboard visualisations.

9 responses to “Who is in line for a surprise regulatory visit?

  1. Won’t some of this duplicate the work of professional body accreditation? What if these other regulators take a different view from OfS?

  2. What if regulators (or some kind of independent, sector owned, body that worked with regulators) actually engaged with PSRBs?

  3. It’s a wide net. Almost 100 providers failing on at least one of these 42/48 priority measures, including every mission group (and several RG members with below threshold PGT), I make it?

    Still, some hit more negatives than others. There are a few big London, Midlands and Northern universities I wouldn’t fancy being this weekend.

    1. It’s just too big a field to second guess. I started looking but a lot will hinge on “other regulatory information”.

      1. I’m also not clear on whether this is purely subject exercise (i.e. are the handful of institutions who are below threshold for measures in all of those subjects in a worse position than an institution with a very bad record in one subject).

        Anyway, I’m going to keep second guessing as otherwise I have to go back to writing a TEF.

  4. Starting to feel very reminiscent (albeit on a sampling rather than a comprehensive basis) of the pre-2001 old style TQA/subject review programme. Though not sure whether they’ve published (as QAA would always have done) an operational descriptor/handbook for how the ‘boots on the ground’ reviews that take place will actually work?

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