OfS consultations

The Office for Students OfS has issued three related consultations with detailed proposals on their approach to regulating quality and standards in higher education.

As the three consultations are extremely long and detailed, the EPC has produced brief summaries of each of the consultations’ key points to help distil the detail for our members (with thanks to London Higher for their starting point summary) and an introduction to the general policy implications for engineering.

Each consultation stands alone, the EPC has produced two member surveys to ensure the EPC’s response to the consultations is fully representative: one on quality and standards (B3) and one on excellence (TEF). Where we think there is a particular relevance to engineering, we have also included some general questions on the detailed metric proposals; please skip these if they are too technical in nature or provide details where you think we should be making more technical comments.

We hope the information we have provided will help you understand the proposals and respond to our surveys, by Wednesday 9th March. Your comments will enable us to respond fully on members’ behalf by the OfS deadline of 17th March.

If you require further information, links to the consultations themselves are included below, and the OfS has provided introductory video presentations about each of the consultations and recorded events and slide packs on their website.

  1. Consultation on a new approach to regulating student outcomes (changes to B3 baseline)
  2. Consultation on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 
  3. Consultation on constructing student outcome and experience indicators for use in OfS regulation 

Regulating student outcomes

The regulating student outcomes consultation outlines a new approach to setting ‘minimum requirements’ for positive HE outcomes in England. The continuing narrative is the threat of ‘low performing providers’ to the public purse and public confidence. The consultation is part of the wider regulatory risk-based approach we’ve seen which is couched as reducing regulatory burden for some (low-risk) providers.
The proposals include ‘non-determinative’ minimum outcomes thresholds. That means that falling short of these will trigger other processes prior to a limiting judgement (ie. any penalties). A host of metric estimates will identify potential underlying performance issues which, depending on OfS’s focus, would lead to a closer look at the providers’ context submission and compliance history. This could lead to an improvement notice.
While minimum requirements are proposed for a dizzying number of indicators, no subject level thresholds are identified, although it is proposed to unpick provider performance at subject level (‘engineering’ not course, or engineering discipline) to ‘enable us to identify pockets of provision where a provider is delivering outcomes below our numerical thresholds even though its overall performance is above our numerical thresholds.’ 
OfS is looking to introduce the changes as soon as July 2022, the publication of all indicators in September and the identification of providers for assessment by October 2022. 

Proposals summaryEngineering implications

Share your views

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

As promised, the OfS is consulting on the future of the TEF, based on the narrative that putting a reputational spotlight on provider quality informs student choice and drives improvement. The TEF builds on the proposed continuous minimum requirements for positive student outcomes under Condition B3 shifting the focus periodically to excellence in teaching, learning and student outcomes.
The consultation follows a statutory independent review chaired by Dame Shirley Pearce, which argued for a rebalancing of metrics and qualitative information articulating an institutional view, evidence of excellence, and institutional education gain measures. The Pearce Review also recommended that students be supported to make their own independent submission alongside their provider.
Under the new proposals, universities and colleges in England would be assessed on undergraduate courses for a TEF award – of gold, silver or bronze – every four years, plus a new designation of ‘requiring improvement’.
It is proposed to open the submission window between September and November 2022 and announce outcomes in spring 2023. The last TEF exercise was carried out in 2019.

Proposals summaryEngineering implications

Share your views

Student outcomes and experience indicators

The OfS proposals for regulating student outcomes and the TEF involve using detailed data and analytical evidence to inform their regulatory judgements. The focus of this consultation is on the technical aspect of the outcomes; how the data thresholds and indicators proposed are constructed, presented and interpreted.
This consultation also brings the OfS Access & Participation data dashboards into scope, to establish consistency and alignment of indicators and their parameters across the B3 conditions, TEF and the Access & Participation dashboards (despite differences in their coverage). It is proposed to continue with an update of the latter in Spring 2022, then publish another version later in 2022 following consultation on these measures. TEF data will be updated annually.

Proposals summaryEngineering implications

To share your views on this consultation, please refer to the student outcomes and TEF surveys above.