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Moving the HE landscape’s quality contours … again

The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.

Government plans mark a seismic shift in higher education policy

Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.

UK universities affirm 'deep commitment' to high quality TNE

Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.

OfS cuts back regulatory demands in face of Covid-19 crisis

The Office for Students is leaving it up to universities to decide on particular approaches to the Coronavirus pandemic rather than issuing specific guidance, and has promised to minimise its regulatory demands on the sector in response to the crisis.

In an update letter to universities on COVID-19, the regulator said institutions should undertake their own local approach and that as long as they have clear reasons for their actions, it is “unlikely to draw negative conclusions”.

The OfS also indicated that universities are no longer required to report the number of individuals with either suspected or confirmed symptoms. The F3 Notice issued earlier this month which asked providers to supply such details has been revised until further notice.

In the letter, Susan Lapworth, the director of competition and registration, said that the key objectives of the OfS in responding to the impact of Covid-19 are to protect students by working with providers to maintain teaching quality and standards, enable adequate exams and assessment, and support financial sustainability.

The regulator promised to minimise its regulatory demands, provide clarity about its requirements during this time and minimise uncertainty through advice and clear communications.

More details about what this means in practice will be issued over the next week. New and current consultations have been paused.

The OfS decision to “not set out particular approaches that providers should adopt” is based on an understanding that being able to respond to local context is vital.

“In practice, this means that we are unlikely to draw negative conclusions about the actions a provider has taken – or not taken – where it is clear to us that it has properly considered the needs of its students and has made a reasonable decision,” the letter said. “For significant decisions, this could mean recording the reasons for the decision clearly. Governing bodies and leadership teams will need to make good judgements about the actions necessary to protect the interests of students and, in particular, to ensure that students have effective pastoral support.”

OfS staff will be made available to answer questions and provide information.

Any questions about the issues in the letter should be emailed to covid-19reports@officeforstudents.org.uk.

Questions relating to regulatory matters should be emailed to regulation@officeforstudents.org.uk. The regulation helpline is 0117 931 7305 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday).