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Adeep and fundamental conflict over the role of regulation in England’s higher education sector has resurfaced in the wake of the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee (IRC) inquiry into the Office for Students (OfS).

In its submission to the committee, Independent Higher Education (IHE) described OfS’ expansion of responsibilities since launch as “mission creep”. Universities UK’s CEO Vivienne Stern used her evidence session to argue that OfS has “accreted new responsibilities” due to a “tendency to treat the OfS as a bit like a Christmas tree”.

St Mary’s VC and Guild HE Chair Anthony McClaran looked back fondly to his days of streamlining OfS’ counterpart in Australia just a year into operation, due to “enormous concern” about “excessive complexity, regulatory burden” and a failure to “communicate adequately or consistently”.

And Blair-era Secretary of State Charles Clarke cited “unexplained grade inflation, harassment and sexual misconduct, mental health and wellbeing, freedom of speech and increasing the diversity of provision” as areas of expansion – arguing that “some of these areas are covered by the law” and so “should be dealt with by the law of the land”.

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