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In one fell swoop, the new Office for Students is about to ensure there are more unregulated than regulated higher education institutions in England

  • 27 February 2018

Comment from the HEPI Director, Nick Hillman, on the publication of the Regulatory Framework for Higher Education

‘The new Office for Students will publish their Regulatory Framework for Higher Education tomorrow. We will finally discover exactly how English higher education is to be regulated in future. In one of the worst-kept secrets of recent years, it is widely expected that the “basic” category of regulation will not happen after all.

‘This may seem welcome. At HEPI, we have long complained that the basic category would have given respectability to over a hundred higher education providers while not actually protecting their students. Basic providers had been expected to pay just £1,000 a year to the Office for Students, which would not have bought much effective regulation.

‘But simply abolishing the basic category does nothing to solve the underlying problem of effective regulation. Indeed, it is likely to make things worse. There is a common assumption that the change will boost the number of higher education providers that choose to be tightly regulated, but that is unlikely because it is a costly and bureaucratic process. It is more likely to increase the number that opt to be entirely unregulated.

‘The Higher Education and Research Act (2017) made some necessary changes. But the original intention of having new legislation was to deliver “a level playing field for higher education providers of all types”. That is one thing which is not happening and policymakers may soon need to revisit the whole question.’

Notes for Editors

The chart below shows official figures for the number of English higher education institutions that had been expected to enter each category of provider.

With the cancellation of the ‘basic’ category (shown as ‘Registered’ on the chart), it seems certain that there will now be more unregulated than regulated providers.

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