The chief executive of the Office for Students has announced she will stand down at the end of April 2022.
Nicola Dandridge wrote in her resignation letter to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi and FE and HE minister Michelle Donelan that it “feels like the right time to move on and hand over to a new chief executive who will bring fresh momentum to the next phase of the OfS’s important work”.
The higher education regulator is set to open a consultation on a new strategy soon, while a new director of fair access and participation will start in January 2022 after James Wharton started as the OfS’ new chair in February.
It is not known if Dandridge has accepted a new position elsewhere, though the OfS said she had not been asked to step down.
Dandridge wrote she is “enormously proud of all that we have achieved since we were set up in 2018”.
She listed achievements such as “developing a robust and innovative approach to regulating quality and equality of opportunity, taking decisive action in a number of cases where quality and governance were inadequate, and overseeing demonstrable progress on social mobility”.
Dandridge ‘leaves a real legacy’ of improving access for disadvantaged students
A qualified lawyer, Dandridge became the first chief executive of the OfS in 2017, ahead of its launch in 2018.
She previously served as chief executive of the representative body Universities UK for eight years.
Zahawi thanked Dandridge for her “excellent work” over the last five years, saying she “leaves behind her a real legacy that includes improving access to higher education for those from the most disadvantaged parts of the country”.
He added that the next steps for finding Dandridge’s successor will be announced in due course.
There is currently a review ongoing into the operating model of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the government’s funding regulator for the rest of the education sector, with interim findings due early next year.
Regulator faced court battles and public pressure from FE sector
The OfS has had an at times rocky relationship with the FE sector: it came under criticism immediately after it started for not having an FE representative on its board. This was later rectified with the appointment of Leicester College principal Verity Hancock in January 2019.
It has also faced court battles over its decisions to refuse providers admission to the OfS Register, which allows institutions to receive HE public grant and student support funding, to recruit international students, and apply for degree awarding powers.
In August 2020, the Court of Appeal squashed the regulator’s decision to turn away Bloomsbury Institute, with the judges saying the OfS staff who set student continuation and progression thresholds which Bloomsbury was rejected by did not have the delegated authority to do so.
However, in October 2019, Barking and Dagenham College lost its High Court case to overturn the OfS’ decision to refuse the provider admission to the register, and for an injunction to prevent the regulator from publishing that decision.
The regulator also lost responsibility to inspect apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 to Ofsted last April.
OfS chair James Wharton said Dandridge’s “experience, diligence and determination has been key to the success of the OfS”.
She had “retained an absolute focus on the OfS’s role to protect the interests of students, particularly in work to raise the quality bar in higher education, and to improve equality of opportunity for students of all backgrounds,” he continued.