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New university regulatory body, Office for Students, launched

Chris McAndrew

The Office for Students (OfS), the new regulatory authority tasked with overseeing competition in the higher education sector in England, has come into legal existence from Monday with the arrival of the new year.

The OfS has the power to fine, suspend and deregister any university that fails to protect freedom of speech on campus. It will also be responsible for managing the Prevent duty. It will not have any remit over institutions in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The regulator was initially established by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and was championed by Jo Johnson, universities minister.

“It’s a fundamentally different way of looking at how the sector is regulated. It’s a classic marketing regulator, rather than a funding council whose principle job up until now has been to ensure the sector was suitably funded and the financial sustainability of the sector was assured,” Johnson has said.

“This is a regulator that is going to be driving value for money in the provision of higher education. That’s a core concern right now for students who are bearing the cost or a significant part of the cost of their higher education.”

The board heading up the OfS includes former journalist and free school advocate Toby Young, former policy adviser to Tony Blair, Sir Michael Barber, and managing director of Boots UK, Elizabeth Fagan.

The board does not include any representatives from the National Union of Students (NUS) which has pushed the OfS for greater student involvement but does include Ruth Carlson, a student from Surrey University.

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