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Government spells out joint working of OfS and UKRI

The government has outlined how it intends the new Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation body working together amid concerns over their creation leading to a disconnect between teaching and research.

Fears have been raised across higher education that division of responsibilities  between the two new bodies, as outlined in the Higher Education and Research Bill, could spell problems for work at the interface between teaching and research, such as the health of disciplines, awarding research degrees, post graduate training, shared facilities, knowledge exchange and skills development.

Concerns deepened in July when the higher education brief was split across the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

A five page government factsheet aims to reassure the sector, spelling out seven areas where the OfS and UKRI (OfS) will be expected to co-operate.

The areas where the bodies will collaborate include skills, capability and progression, knowledge exchange, infrastructure funding, financial sustainability and efficiency of the HE system and providers, accountability and assurance, evidence gathering and system intelligence, the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Research Excellence Framework, the paper says.

In a move towards formal co-operation, each organisation will be required to develop a framework document with its partner department to ensure a consistent approach to joint working.

Cooperation and information sharing between the OfS and UKRI will include OfS revealing details of the financial stability of institutions to “ensure that UKRI has an accurate picture of institutional financial health so its funding decisions safeguard research sustainability”.

The fact sheet also highlights co-operation on postgraduate teaching, and reiterates that the REF will recognise and reward institutions who carry out applied teaching research, while the TEF will encourage teaching that is informed by research and professional practice.

Demands from various organisations, from the Russell Group to the Royal Society, for a clause which says “The OfS and UKRI may cooperate with one another in exercising any of their functions”, to be amended to “must cooperate”, have fallen on deaf ears, however.

Also rejected are calls for the creation of some kind of formal shared body, such as a sub-committee made up of members from each organisations.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, commented: "The existence of the paper does in itself show how hard the new arrangements will be to operate successfully. 

"It can be done and the paper is a real move forward but there is going to have to be a permanent commitment from both sides and a willingness at every level of staffing, plus the first few months will be crucially important in showing how it can be done. Of course, if there was more money to lubricate the changes in the autumn statement too, that would help."
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