Trans­parency and trust

The method to the OfS mis­sion

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CON­TENTS -

As a reg­u­la­tor, we have been am­bi­tious in our aspi­ra­tions be­cause reg­u­la­tion can raise stan­dards and sup­port pos­i­tive change.

But we’re mod­est about our role. We know that reg­u­la­tion is no sub­sti­tute for the en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity of those on the ground.

There are four core el­e­ments to the new sys­tem: base­line con­di­tions to pro­tect stu­dent and pub­lic in­ter­ests; tar­geted in­ter­ven­tions to ad­vance spec­i­fied stu­dent and pub­lic in­ter­ests; free­dom for in­sti­tu­tions to de­ter­mine their own path; and the Of­fice for Stu­dents lead­ing dis­cus­sion on best prac­tice and the fu­ture of the sec­tor.

Our main con­cern is to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of stu­dents. This is best done by avoid­ing in­fringe­ments through the early iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of po­ten­tial risks via a com­bi­na­tion of ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing and a trusted re­la­tion­ship be­tween the OfS and providers.

Where in­for­ma­tion in­di­cates a ma­te­rial risk that a provider is not meet­ing con­di­tions, we shall con­sider in­ter­ven­ing, hav­ing re­gard to the spe­cific cir­cum­stances and likely im­pact.

Our sec­ond el­e­ment is more tar­geted in­ter­ven­tion. The base­lines set out min­i­mum, al­beit strong, re­quire­ments. Tar­geted in­ter­ven­tions are more spe­cific in ad­vanc­ing change and are lim­ited to ar­eas where in­di­vid­ual provider ini­tia­tives will be in­suf­fi­cient to ad­vance im­por­tant stu­dent and pub­lic in­ter­ests.

Fore­most of these is en­sur­ing that all stu­dents who have the po­ten­tial and de­sire to ben­e­fit from higher ed­u­ca­tion have ac­cess to the full range of in­sti­tu­tions and cour­ses and are prop­erly sup­ported to ful­fil their po­ten­tial.

Within and be­yond these pa­ram­e­ters, in­sti­tu­tions, not the reg­u­la­tor, are best placed to make de­ci­sions.

But it is a reg­u­lated mar­ket, as is ap­pro­pri­ate for a sec­tor de­liv­er­ing pub­lic and pri­vate goods and serv­ing some vul­ner­a­ble users. Base­line con­di­tions, and tar­geted in­ter­ven­tions, en­sure that the ben­e­fits of choice, and re­spon­sive­ness to change and new ideas, that come from a well-func­tion­ing mar­ket, are com­bined with ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ven­tions and pro­tec­tions for stu­dents and the pub­lic.

Much pub­lic money is in­vested in the sys­tem, and stu­dents in­cur sig­nif­i­cant debt to meet providers’ costs. It is, there­fore, rea­son­able that providers give proper weight to mat­ters such as stu­dent en­gage­ment, good gov­er­nance and ef­fi­cient use of re­sources and that they are held to ac­count on how they do this.

Ac­count­abil­ity is fa­cil­i­tated by trans­parency. Providers will be re­quired to pub­lish spec­i­fied in­for­ma­tion on mat­ters such as se­nior lead­er­ship re­mu­ner­a­tion to en­able the OfS, stu­dents, staff and the wider com­mu­nity to en­gage on how valu­able re­sources are ex­pended.

Fi­nally, the OfS will have a unique over­sight across the sec­tor, in­clud­ing non­reg­is­tered providers, and power to ex­am­ine what works well (and not so well).

There are those who say that re­ly­ing on out­come-fo­cused base­lines, and lim­it­ing di­rect in­ter­ven­tion to cer­tain pub­lic in­ter­est ar­eas, is in­suf­fi­cient. They want a reg­u­la­tor to set the agenda for the sec­tor and to pro­tect it from change.

But the suc­cess of Eng­lish higher ed­u­ca­tion is not a re­sult of state di­rec­tion; it re­flects the ef­forts and ini­tia­tives of our in­sti­tu­tions and those who work in them. Reg­u­la­tion is an im­por­tant ad­junct to in­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion­mak­ing, not a re­place­ment.

Our new reg­u­la­tory sys­tem seeks to tread a care­ful path, pro­tect­ing vi­tal stu­dent and pub­lic in­ter­ests, while recog­nis­ing that in­sti­tu­tional au­ton­omy is es­sen­tial in de­liv­er­ing a good-qual­ity, di­verse, in­de­pen­dent, re­spon­sive and vi­brant sec­tor.

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