The Office for Students (OfS) has remained swamped in controversy following criticism of its composition and objectives in the lead up to its launch this April. The watchdog is set to become the official government approved regulatory body for the higher education sector, with the objective of implementing the government’s contentious Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
According to the Department of Education (DoE) the decision was made to simplify the landscape of higher education regulation in order put “student interests at its heart.”
The DoE said it will also “hold universities to account over issues such as vice-chancellor pay and free speech.”
Many appointments to the board have been questioned, such the inclusion of University of West England Vice Chancellor Prof. Stephen West on a board designed to question VC salaries.
However, it was the announcement of the final appointments for the board that troubled people the most, with the addition of Toby Young causing huge backlash due to troubling statements made by him in the past.
This news followed with both the resignation of Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Young himself. Despite this, many are still concerned that the regulator is more rooted in business interests than that of education. An inquiry has since been launched to investigate if recent appointments were in light with the government’s governance code.
SU Undergraduate Education Officer Mary Leishman said: “Away from the headlines what matters most is what OfS does- and there is the potential for a new regulator for Universities to do some good.
“[UEASU have] called for it to take action on the issues that matter to students- making it clear what students’ rights are, how to enforce them, and dealing with issues like soaring rent costs, support services or poor academic support.”
The board also faced criticism from the NUS for appearing to not want to include student input in their decision making, after it was revealed that NUS President Shakira Martin, along with many other vital voices, had applied for positions and were subsequently declined.
This lead to the creation of a student panel, comprised of 13 members (including Martin), designed to “ensure that students are involved and that their work is fully reflected in the OfS.”