This House of Commons library briefing gives information on the new higher education body the Office for Students (OfS). It gives background to the establishment of the body, sets out the functions of the body and discusses the new regulatory system.Jump to full report >>
On 1 January 2018 the Office for Students (OfS) came into legal force and in April 2018 it took on the role of regulatory body for the English higher education sector.
As part of the restructuring process the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE) has been closed and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has merged into the OfS.
The OfS was established under provisions in the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) 2017. This Act has made significant changes in the higher education sector including merging the Research Councils and Innovate UK into a new body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The functions of the OfS include: administering a register of higher education providers, granting degree awarding powers and university title, promoting equality of opportunity, assuring quality and standards, the administration of the Teaching and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) and data collection.
When carrying out its functions the OfS should have regard to protecting institutional autonomy and maintaining the principle of co-regulation.
The OfS also has overarching duties to encourage competition in the sector and to promote value for money in the provision of higher education.
In February 2018, following a consultation with stakeholders and the sector, the OfS set out how it intends to perform its various functions in a regulatory framework for higher education. The framework adopts a risk-based approach to regulation. A transitional period is currently in place before the new regulatory framework is implemented in full from August 2019.
The OfS will take on a greater regulatory role than HEFCE and its remit to promote competition in the sector will provide a different focus for the OfS compared to its predecessor.
Concerns about the OfS mainly relate to the independence of the body - particularly following the objections raised over appointments to the board. Overall however the establishment of the OfS has been welcomed by the sector’s representative organisation Universities UK