Ofqual orders exam boards to publish qualification costs

Exam boards will be required to publish the costs of qualifications on their websites to “create a more level playing field”.

All regulated exam boards must publish fee information about their qualifications from October. The information will include the qualification fee, any fees for other products that must be bought alongside the qualification, plus any mandatory cohort or centre-level costs.

The move comes amid a push from Ofqual to increase transparency around exam costs. A new qualifications price index, published for the first time in September, showed the price of GCSEs and A-levels had risen by 17 per cent in three years.

A report by Ofqual in 2015 found that price plays a “limited role” in why schools and colleges change exam providers. More popular reasons are for the course content/syllabus or advice from colleagues or peers.

Sally Collier (pictured), chief regulator at Ofqual, said today she was “convinced” the requirement will “benefit purchasers”.

“While price is only one factor that purchasers should consider, the absence of full price transparency in the qualifications market creates the risk of unfairness and inefficiency.”

She said the new requirement will “help to create a level playing field in our home markets”. Meanwhile, a more “flexible approach” will be taken in other countries “in order for the awarding organisations we regulate to remain competitive”.

Thirty-two of the 41 respondents to a consultation on the changes agreed they would increase transparency.

Many exam boards also agreed the changes would “ensure a level playing field between awarding organisations” and increase “customer satisfaction”.

Those that disagreed were mainly concerned about the commercial sensitivity of fees, specifically allowing larger competitors to “undercut smaller awarding organisations”.

Ofqual also said there was a concern that “making fees transparent may lead to a disproportionate focus on fees rather than content and quality, potentially leading to an unwelcome ‘race to the bottom’ on fees”.

But the regulator added around half of the market is “already transparent on fees”, adding the increased openness is “sufficient to justify the low, but real, risk of aggressive pricing policies emerging”.

Ofqual has also today launched a consultation on new guidance for exam boards on the presentation of fee information.

A new rule will also be introducted allowing Ofqual to “instruct awarding organisations not to issue results… This change will make sure the regulators can act quickly in the rare cases where it is necessary to secure a delay in the issuing of results,” the regulator said.

Ofqual doesn’t expect or intend to intervene more often as a result, though.

The regulator has also published new guidance on conflict of interests and is consulting on ‘clearer’ malpractice guidance.