OfS takes England’s quality role after QAA delisted

England’s higher education regulator takes on quality scrutiny role after Quality Assurance Agency steps back

March 30, 2023
Aggressive angry guard dog barks and growls
Source: iStock

The Office for Students (OfS) will take over as England’s higher education quality assessment body following the withdrawal of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the government has confirmed.

In a written statement to Parliament published on 30 March, universities minister Robert Halfon confirmed that England’s higher education watchdog would take the quality scrutiny role on an interim basis from 1 April “pending further consideration of future arrangements”.

The decision follows the QAA’s announcement in July 2022 that it wished to stop assessing higher education providers in England amid concerns over non-compliance with European standards in the new regulatory approach.

The current regulatory approach in England – which does not require the QAA to publish all of its designated quality body (DQB) reports, include students on review teams or have a cyclical review process – puts it at odds with standard international practice, set out in the European Standards and Guidelines.

As a result, the QAA's registration from the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education had been suspended and the QAA decided it could no longer meet both sets of requirements.

Announcing that the QAA would be delisted as England’s designated quality body at the end of March, Mr Halfon explained the decision would likely cause significant concern within the sector, with an “overall majority (31 of 47) of responses” to a recent consultation on the move disagreeing with de-designation of the QAA.

However, Universities UK and other representative bodies had indicated that they agreed with the removal of the QAA as the quality body, Mr Halfon added.

In addition, the OfS “also supports QAA’s request for its designation to be removed given that it has significant concerns about QAA’s performance”, continued Mr Halfon, referring to a triennial report on the QAA’s performance published by the OfS in January which claimed the body did not provide value for money for higher education providers and had failed to address potential conflicts of interest caused by its assessment of organisations who also subscribed to it, on a voluntary basis. Some of its reports, on which the OfS relied for regulatory decisions, were not “consistently evidenced or focused on outcomes”, it added.

“Having considered the responses to the consultation, and QAA’s decision to step down from the DQB role, I have concluded that QAA should be de-designated as DQB. I will therefore publish a notice to remove the designation with effect from 1 April 2023,” Mr Halfon continued.

While it was mooted last year that an alternative independent body might take over from the QAA, Mr Halfon confirmed that, in line with the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, the watchdog’s role would revert to the OfS “where no body is designated to perform the assessment functions”.

“The OfS has confirmed that, from 1 April 2023, it will undertake all quality and standards assessment activity on an interim basis pending further consideration of future arrangements,” he said, adding that the “Department for Education, OfS and higher education stakeholders will work closely to consider options for long-term arrangements for the assessment of quality and standards”.

Vicki Stott, the QAA’s chief executive, commented that “the minister’s statement naturally follows the difficult decision made last summer to withdraw our consent from being England’s Designated Quality Body (DQB).”

“Our decision to demit the role was necessary due to our commitment to remaining registered with EQAR, something that was not consistent with the requirements made of the DQB,” added Ms Stott, who said the QAA would “look forward to the new opportunities for our work in England that will result from this change alongside our ongoing work in the other UK nations and internationally”.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

Pot? Kettle? OfS is not a credible assessor of quality. So far they have demonstrated no more than pandering to the excesses of political claptrap and do not have the confidence of the academy. If QAA does not wish to change its ways to what seems quite reasonable parameters set by the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education, we need to find a competent institution to replace it as assessor. Maybe the Higher Education Academy?