Universities and colleges in England that do not meet dropout rates and graduate employment standards could lose funding, under “difficult” new measures proposed by the regulator.
The Office of Students, which oversees quality in higher education, on Thursday announced strict thresholds it proposes that institutions must meet to avoid investigations and possible restrictions on access to student loan funding.
The plans are part of the government’s efforts to “crack” courses considered “low quality”, as it promises to “rebalance” the higher education landscape and impose stricter controls on university spending.
Universities said they would work with the OfS to ensure the delivery of “high quality” courses, but said outcomes proposed by the regulator “are not the only value markers”.
“Universities should also consider how courses contribute to public services such as the NHS, to business creation and skills needs in local areas, and their contribution to cultural activities and the environment,” said Alistair Jarvis, CEO of Universities UK, a body representing the sector.
The University and College Union, which represents staff in higher education, said the measures would target courses that help increase participation and warned that institutions could stop allowing students who are “unlikely to progress” to avoid sanctions.
“The proposals. . . will harm the very students who are seemingly designed to help, ”said Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary.
Earlier this week, Universities UK released its own guidelines on how universities can monitor course quality by considering factors such as student well-being before and after graduation and impact on business productivity.
The body quoted the OFS which shows that 94 per cent of students consider teaching quality to be “very important” in demonstrating the value of a degree, compared to 65 per cent who believed getting a job shortly after graduation was important.
According to the OFS proposals, universities will have to show that 80 percent of students continue in their second year of study, and three-quarters complete their qualification.
It said 60 percent of students must enter work after their degree or further their studies. Thresholds can be applied to institutions as a whole or individual courses, the regulator added.
OfS CEO Nicola Dandridge said the proposals were a “landmark moment” in tackling “poor quality supply”. The regulator will consider responses to the plans during a consultation that runs from January 20 to March 17.
“We are clear that we are raising our expectations,” she said. “Low quality courses that have led to poor outcomes for students are unacceptable, and we are determined to take action where students are recruited to courses that offer few tangible benefits.”
Analysis of university data by OfS found that about 3 percent of students start courses each year that do not meet the proposed graduation threshold.
About 2 percent of students – a total of 3,000 at 55 providers – have obtained qualifications from providers who have not reached the regulator’s target for graduate employment.
Rachel Hewitt, CEO of Million Plus, which represents modern universities, including former colleges and polytechnics, said members are “really committed” to maintaining quality.
But she said members were concerned about judging institutions based on historical data, as well as regional differences in job prospects and economic shocks that universities were powerless to control.
Michelle Donelan, minister of higher and further education, said it was necessary to “strike” universities that did not deliver.
“Our university system is considered world-class, but there are too many bags of poor quality,” she said.