English regulator to push ahead with numerical ‘quality’ measures
OfS to introduce new quality condition, including proportion of graduates securing ‘managerial or professional employment’, in October
The English regulator has announced that it will implement plans to judge universities on numerical baselines, including on how many of their graduates go into “managerial or professional” employment, despite opposition and concerns from the sector.
The Office for Students (OfS) announced on 26 July the outcome of its consultation, which means that a revised condition of registration for student outcomes (condition B3) will come into force for all registered providers on 3 October 2022.
“Numerical thresholds for condition B3 for continuation, completion and progression will be decided and published in September,” the OfS said. “These thresholds will not be higher than those in the consultation.”
Guidance for submissions to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will be published in late September, with the submission window open until mid-January 2023 and outcomes published in September 2023. “This is an extension to the proposed timeline and allows more time for universities, colleges and students to prepare their submissions,” the OfS said.
From the outset of the plans – which stem from the Conservative government’s aim to tackle “low quality” provision – vice-chancellors have warned that the baselines could deter universities from recruiting disadvantaged students.
In its consultation, the OfS had set out plans for numerical baselines on progression that would mean that 60 per cent of full-time first-degree students at every provider would be expected to go into “managerial or professional” employment or further study.
However, in a change to its initial plans, the OfS had already said it would consider institutions’ “context” if they fall below baselines, including variation in outcomes “for different types of students and courses”.
Institutions that fall short face the prospect of improvement notices, fines or – the ultimate threat – being stripped of access to student loan funding or of university title.
The OfS’ response to the consultation says there was “generally disagreement among respondents with the proposed implementation of the proposed approach to regulating student outcomes. Around three quarters of respondents disagreed with the proposed timing of implementation, almost two thirds disagreed with the approach to constructing the student outcomes indicators and almost half disagreed with the approach to setting numerical thresholds.”
Jean Arnold, director of quality at the OfS, said: “The reforms we have announced today mean that students from all backgrounds are protected from courses that do not deliver positive outcomes. Where providers recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they must support those students to succeed during their studies and into their life and career beyond graduation.”