Office for Students
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Higher education regulator’s plan to assess progress of institutions faces criticism

The Office for Students’ (OfS) proposal for a new plan to assess the progress of institutions has faced criticism from vice-chancellors.

The proposal from the regulator for higher education involves implementing an absolute baseline on student outcomes, such as the proportion of students who end up in “managerial and professional” jobs. 

Universities failing to meet the new performance indicators will receive “significant regulatory attention” from the OfS. This includes the use of the organisation’s enforcement powers such as imposing monetary penalties, withholding an institution’s access to public funding, or even deregistering the institution. 

This follows the OfS’s contention that it has seen “low continuation and disappointing levels of progression to managerial and professional employment or higher-level study” in recent years, which it attributes to students not receiving sufficient support from their respective universities in order to succeed. 

As such, the OfS has claimed that its new strategy is designed to tackle universities with “low quality provision”. 

A potential unintended consequence is that providers are deterred from recruiting students who might be considered more at risk of not continuing, completing, or progressing to the stated level of employment

– Universities UK

However, Universities UK (UUK) has argued that the baseline overlooks the influence of socioeconomic backgrounds of prospective students, which puts many applicants at an unfair disadvantage.

“A potential unintended consequence is that providers are deterred from recruiting students who might be considered more at risk of not continuing, completing, or progressing to the stated level of employment,” UUK added. 

Vice-chancellors have also warned that this will likely discourage institutions from admitting students from “underrepresented groups” who may be perceived as being less likely to achieve the stated outcomes.

London Higher, an association for the capital’s universities, cautioned that the proposed baseline “risks reversing progress made in increasing access and participation for underrepresented student groups”.

Professor Graham Galbraith from the University of Portsmouth fears that the indirect regulation of courses by the OfS will narrow the range of options available to students and steer them towards a path that is deemed more “favourable” by the organisation.

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