Awarding bodies’ report reveals rocketing cost of regulatory burden

Regulation has risen 'exponentially' over the past decade, research finds

Regulation has risen 'exponentially' over the past decade, research finds

Awarding bodies are forking out more than £6 million a year complying with regulation that has risen “exponentially” over the past decade, according to new research.

Calls are now being made for a more streamlined system which reduces an “overwhelming and complex” regulatory burden – including abandoning a key policy in the skills bill to add the government’s apprenticeship quango to the list of bodies approving technical qualifications.

The findings have been published through a Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) report entitled Feel the Weight and shared exclusively with FE Week.

It shows that from 2014 to 2020, the number of regulatory bodies which set their own requirements and sanction regimes that awarding organisations must comply with across the UK grew from two to six.

Through a survey of members, the federation found compliance with these bodies costs an awarding organisation, on average, £4,618 per month and around £6 million as a sector annually. FAB believes “in reality” these figures will be much higher when including awarding bodies outside of their membership who deliver general qualifications.

However, the report does not provide estimates for how much compliance with regulators has changed cost-wise since 2014.

Unsurprisingly, specialist and niche awarding and assessment organisations reported particular challenges dealing with increases in regulatory burden. In some cases, small awarding bodies have chosen to surrender their recognition in some devolved nations.

“The current three country regulatory compliance in general is currently not only complex and high-maintenance but also high-risk, with the sanctions that Ofqual, Qualification Wales and the Council for Curriculum Exams and Assessment Regulation can individually impose, potentially for the same non-compliance,” one unnamed awarding body said in the report.

“There are benefits to regulation, but smaller awarding bodies are likely to find it increasingly difficult to justify, particularly professional and chartered bodies which already have an established reputation in their individual sectors for delivery of professional educational development.”

Reflecting on the findings, FAB chief executive Tom Bewick said: “Our starting point is that regulation is a positive thing for the sector. But equally, we must also monitor carefully the growth in regulatory burden for our members, which can stifle innovation and result in more cost and bloated bureaucracy that hampers progress.”

Ofqual, the main regulator for qualifications in England, said: “Our priority is to regulate on behalf of students of all ages, and apprentices. We look forward to continuing to work with the FAB, their members and other awarding organisations, working together with students as our shared compass.”

In addition, FAB’s report warns the implementation of the skills bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, creates “significantly more confusion” in the landscape for the regulation of qualifications.

One contentious reform is to hand the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education the ultimate sign-off power for the approval and regulation of technical qualifications in future.

Awarding bodies claim this is a retrograde step and would reverse the gains of independent regulation that parliament intended in 2009 when it set up Ofqual.

Unlike Ofqual, the institute is a non-departmental public body directly accountable to ministers, not parliament.

There is concern that IfATE’s new powers would therefore introduce a conflict of interest. Some also fear that having two regulators splitting responsibility for certain types of vocational and technical qualifications could create a muddled and cumbersome two-tier system of regulation.

The DfE said the measures in the bill will create a “single approval gateway for technical qualifications” via the IfATE, while Ofqual will retain its “statutory responsibility for recognising awarding organisations in England across all categories of both academic and technical qualifications”.

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