Reg­is­tra­tion de­lays bring re­cruit­ment wor­ries on English cam­puses

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Eng­land’s new reg­u­la­tor has failed to pub­lish the lat­est tranche of its reg­is­ter of providers amid claims of un­re­al­is­tic timescales and an overly bu­reau­cratic ap­proach, prompt­ing con­cerns about po­ten­tial im­pact on stu­dent re­cruit­ment for in­sti­tu­tions not yet on the list.

The Of­fice for Stu­dents, which blamed in­sti­tu­tions for the de­lay, had told those who ap­plied by 23 May that it would pub­lish a batch of ad­di­tions to the reg­is­ter in the week of 17 Septem­ber.

In fu­ture, in­sti­tu­tions will need to be regis­tered with the OfS if they wish to ac­cess pub­lic grant fund­ing or stu­dent sup­port fund­ing, to re­cruit in­ter­na­tional stu­dents and to ap­ply for de­gree- award­ing pow­ers or uni­ver­sity ti­tle.

Those re­quire­ments take ef­fect for 2019-20. But there are con­cerns that, be­fore then, stu­dents con­sid­er­ing where to ap­ply could make judge­ments be­tween in­sti­tu­tions ac­cord­ing to who is, and who is not, on the reg­is­ter – mean­ing that the de­lay could have a dam­ag­ing ef­fect.

There are 110 in­sti­tu­tions listed on the reg­is­ter at present. A hand­ful of pri­vate providers are in­cluded, but the list is mostly made up of es­tab­lished uni­ver­si­ties.

Those in­sti­tu­tions with ear­lier re­cruit­ment cy­cles – in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties with med­i­cal and den­tal schools – were among the first added to the reg­is­ter in July.

But a num­ber of es­tab­lished providers are yet to ap­pear on the reg­is­ter be­cause of the de­lay, among them the Uni­ver­sity of Kent, Lon­don Met­ro­pol­i­tan Uni­ver­sity and Not­ting­ham Trent Uni­ver­sity.

The OfS has ei­ther un­der­es­ti­mated the scale of the job or is ap­proach­ing it in a highly bu­reau­cratic and overly de­tailed way, some be­lieve. There are also sug­ges­tions that a num­ber of staff in­volved with the reg­is­ter have re­cently left the OfS.

Gor­don McKenzie, chief ex­ec­u­tive of GuildHE, which rep­re­sents small, spe­cial­ist providers, said that the de­lays in pro­cess­ing the reg­is­ter were “dis­ap­point­ing”.

“I hope OfS are now en­sur­ing they have the re­sources in place to clear this back­log as quickly as pos­si­ble. The de­lay af­fects providers’ abil­ity to com­pete on a fair and equal ba­sis and, even more im­por­tantly, it causes un­cer­tainty for prospec­tive stu­dents,” Mr McKenzie said.

An OfS spokesman said that it was “work­ing to com­plete as­sess­ments as soon as pos­si­ble and aim­ing to give providers who ap­plied for reg­is­tra­tion by the end of May a de­ci­sion by the end of Oc­to­ber”.

“We have been con­duct­ing rig­or­ous as­sess­ments of reg­is­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions, many of which did not in­clude all the in­for­ma­tion that we needed to carry out the as­sess­ments, or re­quired ad­di­tional clar­i­fi­ca­tion. This has meant that we have not been able to com­plete the pro­cess­ing of ap­pli­ca­tions at the speed we had orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated,” the spokesman added.

“We are work­ing to com­plete as­sess­ments as soon as pos­si­ble and are aim­ing to give providers who ap­plied for reg­is­tra­tion by the end of May a de­ci­sion by the end of Oc­to­ber.”

Nick Hill­man, di­rec­tor of the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, said that the new reg­u­la­tory regime was “meant to be more re­spon­sive to stu­dents and providers, and cur­rent teething prob­lems mean that has yet to hap­pen”.

He added: “This shows yet again that the scale of up­heaval in­volved in the cre­ation of the Of­fice for Stu­dents was un­nec­es­sar­ily big.”

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