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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has urged the Office for Students to adopt “ambitious” new measures “in order to tackle risks to the world class quality of higher education” in the UK.
In supplementary guidance to priorities for the 2019-20 financial year he originally set out in February, Hinds calls on the OfS to make additional efforts to address concerns over degree grade inflation, essay mills, unconditional offers, degree apprenticeships, and university admissions more broadly.
The OfS should be prepared to “directly challenge” institutions where it finds clear evidence of grade inflation, using “the full range of its powers to address any disregard of sector-recognised standards”, he says in the guidance letter, adding that the OfS should make the target for new key performance indicators in this area “ambitious”.
The OfS should also take a “visible lead” in challenging the sector to eliminate the use of essay mills, working with the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) to ensure institutions have the support they need to take “firm and robust action”.
The education secretary refers again to a “disturbing” rise in the number of unconditional offers being made, and says he expects the OfS to keep him informed of progress on work to address this. The growth in unconditional offers “may be symptomatic of wider issues within university admissions processes”, he adds, welcoming the OfS’s stated intention to conduct a review of admissions.
On degree apprenticeships, Hinds encourages the OfS to work closely with Ofsted to produce quality assessment reviews of apprenticeships delivered by non-registered providers, to identify any that are not meeting expected standards.
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