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  1 Sir Michael Barber Nicholson House Lime Kiln Close Stoke Gifford Bristol BS34 8SR Sam Gyimah MP Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET T E +44 (0) 20 7215 5000  20 February 2018 Dear Sir Michael, Strategic Guidance to the Office for Students  –  Priorities for Financial Year 2018/19 The creation of the Office for Students (OfS) marks a new era for students as well as higher education regulation, and the forthcoming publication of the new regulatory framework is a key milestone in the delivery of the programme of reforms set out in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA). I am delighted to be writing to you with the first annual statement of Government priorities for the OfS under this new regime. Creating a new regulatory system and ensuring a smooth transition I encourage you to be ambitious in developing the OfS as a champion of students and as the new market regulator of higher education, with a new mission, taking full advantage of this opportunity to improve the opportunities for and outcomes achieved by students in higher education. A key task this year will be to register current and new providers in time for the full regulatory framework to become operational for the academic year 2019/20. The new regulatory framework moves away from the current one-size-fits all approaches, and instead focuses on what matt ers most: protecting students’ interests while removing unnecessary regulatory burdens for providers. The OfS should be bold in its operation of the framework, explicitly supporting diverse, innovative approaches and models of provision. To ensure the OfS regulated sector remains open to cutting edge providers, and provides a high level of choice and protection for students, the OfS should look beyond its register, develop an understanding of providers and students in the currently unregulated parts of the higher education sector and consider ways of encouraging such providers to register and engage with good regulatory practice. This will further drive choice and competition, ensuring students get a high quality higher education experience that is right for them, and can be part of a sector that continues to be world leading.   2 2018/19 will be a transition year and we will also look to the OfS to continue operating the existing regulatory arrangements effectively, including supporting the regulation of alternative providers, while achieving a smooth transition into the new system. This transition year should include ensuring preparations are made for full launch of the new regulatory system from 1 August 2019. This will mean using both powers previously exercised by HEFCE and the Director for Fair  Access, and new HERA powers, during the transition year. Student experience, quality and choice I would like the OfS to ensure that students’ interests are central to the mission of the OfS . I would encourage the OfS to work with the sector, providers and students to promote a positive higher education experience for all students, regardless of background or circumstance. This includes working to counter harassment and hate crime in higher education, taking steps to make campuses places of tolerance for all students. I would also like the OfS to work with the designated quality body to entrench the quality and standards that students have a right to expect. In particular, unchecked grade inflation risks damaging the reputation of the entire Higher Education sector, and I would like the OfS to challenge this wherever it occurs. I would like the OfS to continue to deliver on institutional TEF and managing the TEF subject-level pilots, driving improvements in teaching. The OfS should also play a key role in ensuring that better information, advice and guidance is provided to students so that they can make the right choice. This should include taking advantage of the better information contained within the new Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset. Students should have much more choice over how they learn, and therefore, I would like the OfS to support and encourage greater diversity of provision, including through accelerated degrees and student transfer where students wish to change course or provider. I would also like the OfS to be a champion of freedom of speech, which is so crucial to higher education. Free speech is essential in ensuring that universities are places which expose students to new and uncomfortable ideas, and encourage robust, civil debate and challenge.  Access and participation Promoting access and participation in higher education amongst students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups should also be fundamental and integral to all that the OfS does. I would like the OfS to work with providers to seek continuous improvement in this - within the higher education sector, but also where possible to engage across the wider education system, including with schools, in supporting the ambitions set out in our plan on social mobility, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential . I would encourage the OfS to use this opportunity to review approaches taken by providers to support improved success. This should be not only in access to all types of higher education provision including the most selective, but also in retention, attainment and progression by disadvantaged and under-represented groups. I would also encourage the OfS to support innovation in access and participation activities, encouraging evaluation of these to develop our understanding of what works in addressing this key challenge.   3 Delivering value for money for the student and taxpayers Students and taxpayers rightly expect value for money, especially given the significant financial contribution they make to the higher education sector. In order to ensure that all students receive value for money, I would ask the OfS to work with the sector to protect quality and standards, hold governing bodies to account, and improve transparency, so that students know what they should expect and can effectively challenge providers who do not deliver on their commitments. I would also ask the OfS to work with the sector to ensure good governance, effective and efficient use of resources, including around senior staff remuneration, as well as engaging closely with the sector on its own self-regulation in this area. In addition, I would like the OfS to consider how to increase transparency and visibility for students of what they can expect to receive for their investment at different providers, by making Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data more widely available such as through publication on Unistats, thereby enabling students to make the right choices for them. Industrial strategy and skills The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out its long -term plan to boost productivity across all regions of the UK. Ensuring that graduates have the skills, competencies and informed career choices they need to secure employment in their desired field is an important part of this. I would like the OfS, in carrying out its functions and in consultation with UKRI, to have regard to how the higher education sector supports the Government’s broader economic policy as defined by the Industrial Strategy. In doing so, I would like the OfS, in particular, to consider how to encourage sector support for the pipeline of skilled graduates from all backgrounds that is needed by the economy, for example through sector support for maths schools. Key to this will be promoting and enhancing collaboration between the higher education sector and employers, both nationally and locally, and I would like the OfS to work with Government on reviewing how funding can be used to stimulate this, and also on the impact of apprenticeships in achieving this goal as well as supporting access and participation. Collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Joined up working between the OfS and UKRI (including Research England) will be essential to ensure a co-ordinated and strategic approach to the funding and regulation of the higher education system in England. I would like the OfS to prioritise collaboration with UKRI on those areas of shared interest, including: skills; capability and progression; knowledge exchange; the ongoing financial sustainability of HE providers; accountability and assurance; infrastructure funding; building robust evidence and intelligence; and ensuring that the Research Excellence Framework (REF), Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) and Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) are mutually reinforcing. Strategic priorities for funding The OfS’ funding priorities, which remain broadly consisten t with those set for HEFCE in relation to Teaching Grant in previous years, are set out in the attached table and the details of your allocation for 18-19 are set out in the finance annex (Annex B). Annex C sets out the condition that will apply to the grant in accordance with section 23 of the Higher Education Act 2004. We also look forward to the OfS supporting DfE on funding policy issues, including contributing to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and helping take forward the review’s recommendations.   4 2018/19 deliverables and supplementary guidance The accompanying table (Annex A) provides more detail on the priorities that I would like the OfS to focus on during 2018/19.  Alongside this overall statement of Government priorities, I am also publishing the following supplementary guidance:   Priorities for Access and Participation including Access and Participation Plan Guidance   Degree Awarding Powers and University Title Guidance   Facilitating Electoral Registration Guidance There may be a need to clarify government priorities further during the year, and I will do this by providing supplementary guidance in line with HERA. Developing the OfS The OfS sits at the heart of higher education regulation, and so it is vital for it to operate effectively and efficiently, with confidence and independence in regulating the sector, involving students, following the principles of best regulatory practice, and complying with the Regulators’ Code voluntarily (until this becomes a statutory requirement). I would like the OfS to prioritise development of these characteristics in the OfS. Finally, I’d like to thank the OfS for your engagement and commitment up until now on turning these reforms into reality, and look forward to engaging with the OfS in developing this new chapter in higher education. Yours sincerely, SAM GYIMAH MP
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