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Lords Committee launches inquiry into the Office for Students

Friday 3 March

The House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee is launching an inquiry into the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator of the higher education sector in England.

The inquiry will scrutinise whether the statutory duties of the OfS are clear and examine its performance against those duties since its establishment.
It will also look at:

  • how the OfS’ regulatory framework has developed since its inception,
  • its independence from and relationship with the Government,
  • whether it has the necessary expertise and resources to carry out its functions.

The OfS’ work in relation to the financial sustainability of the higher education sector will also be examined. This will include consideration of whether the OfS oversees systemic financial risks in the sector, such as the reliance of some universities on overseas students, how the OfS considers and manages these risks, and the potential consequences of and processes for the failure of providers.

The Committee is seeking evidence from higher education providers and other relevant stakeholders on a number of questions, including:

  • are the OfS’ statutory duties clear and appropriate? How successful has the OfS been in performing these duties, and have some duties been prioritised over others?
  • does the OfS have sufficient powers, resources, and expertise to meet its duties? How has its expertise been affected by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s decision not to continue as the OfS’ Designated Quality Body?
  • how does the OfS measure value for money for students? How can this be measured in an objective, tangible way that is not based on economic or political judgements about the value of subject areas or types of institution?
  • how does the OfS engage with students? To what extent does input from students drive the OfS’ view of their interests and its regulatory actions to protect those interests?
  • what is the nature of the OfS’ relationship with universities? Does the OfS strike the right balance between working collaboratively with universities and providing robust challenge?
  • how does the OfS oversee the financial sustainability of higher education providers and the higher education sector? Is its approach clear, and is its oversight sufficient to spot potential risks early on and take action accordingly?
  • to what extent is the financial sustainability of providers determined by government policy and funding rather than the OfS’ regulation? Is there a need for policy change or further clarity to ensure the sustainability of the sector?

Lord Hollick, the Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, said:

“As the regulator for higher education in England, the Office for Students has an important role in ensuring our universities and higher education providers are high-quality institutions which serve their students. The Office for Students is a relatively new regulator, having only become fully operational in 2019. However, since then, the way in which it oversees higher education providers has evolved and changed. We therefore feel an inquiry to scrutinise its work is both necessary and timely. The focus of our inquiry will be the suitability of the OfS’ remit and its statutory duties, as well as its role in relation to the financial sustainability of the higher education sector.”

The complete list of questions, plus details how to submit evidence by the deadline of Friday 7 April, can be found on the Committee’s website.

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