The new Operating Framework

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Why is this important?

The arrangements under which higher education in England has been carried on for the last twenty years are changing substantially, but for the moment the legislative framework will stay the same.

The Government wants to encourage diversity of provision. That makes it necessary to design mechanisms to ensure that new ‘alternative provider’ would-be ‘entrants’ are offering courses of appropriate quality; that student performance is assessed to the necessary standards; and that courses which are offered survive long enough for students to complete them.

The new Operating Framework for Higher Education? can be downloaded at

http://www.hefce.ac.uk/about/intro/wip/rpg/of/

The Ministerial Statement introducing it is at

http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/news/news/2013/HE_Regulatory_Reforms_Written_Ministerial_Statement.pdf

This is the first full published description of the way HEFCE ( the Higher Education Funding Council for England) will be acting as ‘lead Regulator’ in partnership with the members of the ‘Regulatory Partnership Group’ in future.

HEFCE will have the following overarching responsibilities of ‘oversight’ and ‘coordination’:
1. To keep a Register of higher education providers who are ‘inside’ the English system.
2. To collaborate with other sector bodies to monitor the way higher education provision is working in the ‘collective student interest’
3. To identify problems as they arise and take remedial action
4. To take an overview of the way the new regulatory framework is working and identify emerging risks.

The Government decision to reduce the teaching element of public funding for English universities and replace it with income from increased student tuition fees means that public money to support higher education teaching  will now flow mainly through the Student Loan Company and not through HEFCE.

It seems likely that the money paid to the provider to cover tuition fees will be deemed to be the student’s private money not public money once the payment is made.  This may affect the student contract and the basis on which a student could take a complaint to the courts.

Are these the final  arrangements?

The new Operating Framework makes a beginning.  It is intended that the new system be reviewed and updated as it comes into operation.

How will the new Framework affect disputes and dispute-resolution?

The Operating Framework document recognises that will not be easy to ensure that students understand what kind of provider they are applying to.  Students need to

  • know that a course-provider is ‘not subject to the same oversight arrangements as designated higher education providers’
  • be clear how to make ‘enquiries about the quality of provision and other matters of potential interest’?
  • noting that courses from their preferred providers‘are not subject to the full operating framework’, instantly apply elsewhere?

If a student chooses an ‘alternative provider’ the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the Quality Assurance Agency may not be able to consider a complaint or concern

What is an alternative provider?  See:

Alternative providers

If something goes wrong and a student wants to complain, the discovery may come too late that  though ‘most HE students study with providers which subscribe to the OIA’,  ‘some alternative providers may not subscribe’.

When students cannot raise a concern with the QAA

If: ‘students, staff or other parties have concerns about a university or college that they believe require investigation, and where such concerns indicate serious systemic or procedural problems, QAA will investigate them in detail through its concerns procedure. Note that again this will not be relevant for any university or college which does not subscribe to the QAA or have Tier 4 status.’