Independent review launched to check efficiency and governance of Office for Students

Comes months after Lords slam the higher education regulator for lack of independence

Comes months after Lords slam the higher education regulator for lack of independence

14 Dec 2023, 15:53

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An independent review to examine the efficiency and governance of the Office for Students (OfS) is underway, the government has announced.

Sir David Behan (pictured), former chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, will lead the review of the higher education regulator with the aim of concluding it in early summer 2024.

The inquiry is part of the government’s wider public bodies review programme, which examines the effectiveness of arms-length bodies. The Education and Skills Funding Agency was subject to its own independent review in 2021-22, which resulted in the body being stripped of its policy role.

However, the announcement of the OfS review comes months after a House of Lords committee criticised the regulator for a lack of independence from the government and for losing trust with “many of its providers”.

The OfS was set up in 2018 to be an independent body reporting to the Department for  Education and parliament, with a brief to work with higher education providers to make sure that students succeed. It regulates more than 400 providers, including 153 colleges.

The House of Lords’ industry and regulators committee said the actions of the regulator “often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines”. It added that it was “failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend”.

The committee also called the OfS out for “widespread concern that it simply does the government of the day’s bidding”, a perception not helped by the fact that Lord Wharton, the OfS chair, continues to take the whip of the governing party in the House of Lords, while simultaneously claiming that the organisation, as a regulator, is independent of the government.

Sir David Behan’s review will focus on how the OfS meets the requirements of the following four quadrants: efficacy, governance, accountability and efficiency.

He will be responsible for ensuring a “proportionate, rigorous and fair review that offers recommendations to facilitate continuous improvement”, the government’s announcement said.

A “challenge panel” will also be established to “hear from the lead reviewer, understand the evidence base and challenge emerging thoughts and recommendations in a rigorous and constructive manner”.

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  1. Neil Richardson

    Sir David Behan’s review of the Office for Students seems to have begun with a serious
    omission. It will apparently assess efficiency and efficacy, not effectiveness. By way of analogy, my Ford Fiesta could be seen as efficient in its mpg, insurance and annual service charge; likewise, the car’s efficacy means I’m rarely troubled by a breakdown, even during the worst of a northern winter. However, is car ownership and use the best ‘ongoing mission’ for me, and perhaps numerous other travellers? Would occasional taxis or local buses be more effective? Consider the heavy gauntlet of effectiveness picked up by OfS officials: to make sure that students succeed. Can any mere mortals guarantee that?

    Neil R