Ben HaywardAugust 1st
2019

The government has warned universities they could now face fines of up to £500,000 after the Office for Students (OfS) had its powers strengthened.

The OfS has been given new powers to levy financial penalties of up to 2% of a university’s income, or £500,000, in cases of grade inflation, high vice chancellor pay and rising unconditional offers, reports the Independent.

Additionally, institutions that fail to admit enough poor students could be forced to lower their fees with the new universities minister, Jo Johnson, urging the higher education regulator to use its ‘full range of powers’ to ensure students are getting ‘value for money’.

The move has come after recently released figures revealed that the proportion of university applicants receiving unconditional offers has risen to nearly two in five despite a government crackdown.

Mr Johnson said: “Our vision for the Office for Students (OfS) was for it to be a regulator with teeth and it has already made a significant impact on the sector. 

“Now I expect it to use its full range of powers to ensure students up and down the country are at the heart of the system and receive value for money from our universities.

“For the thousands of young people collecting their A-level results this month and starting university in September, they can be confident that the OfS will be a champion for students which is able to take strong action. Our universities are world-leading and this reputation must be protected.”

Universities that are found to be ‘damaging’ students’ interests also face extra conditions on their registration - or even the removal of their right to award degrees in serious cases - and the OfS now has the power to reject plans for improving access among disadvantaged groups if they’re deemed not to go far enough.

Chair of the OfS, Sir Michael Barber, said: “We are now able to impose substantial financial penalties where universities are evidently not acting in the best interests of students and taxpayers short, medium and long-term.

“We have been clear from the outset that we would much prefer to resolve problems such as grade inflation or unconditional offers without using our formal powers; but also that we will not hesitate to use them if necessary. 

“Our world-class higher education system is immensely important to our economy and society and we will do whatever it takes to ensure its success in the future.”

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