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Reducing Bureaucracy in Higher Education

Volume 715: debated on Monday 23 May 2022

Today I am providing an update on my commitment in September 2020 to reduce regulatory burden in higher education.

Bureaucracy has a direct impact on how well providers can do their jobs: every pound spent on unnecessary bureaucracy is a pound that is not being spent on teaching and research.

I am therefore pleased to confirm that the Office for Students has already:

reduced its enhanced monitoring by over 75%, removing 376 individual information or reporting requirements;

removed its requirement for detailed monitoring returns on Access and Participation Plans in 2022

streamlined its communications with HE providers and provided a direct contact for every registered provider.

In addition, I recently set up the HE data reduction taskforce, to bring together attendees from providers, arm’s-length bodies and other data experts across the HE sector to identify where we are putting overlapping data requirements on providers and where they could be reduced. The taskforce provides a real opportunity for all parties involved in data in the HE sector to discuss challenges and opportunities and, most importantly, to agree tangible actions.

Institutional bureaucracy

There is, however, more that providers themselves could do to remove internal bureaucracy which is not needed to comply with regulatory requirements.

I therefore want to use this statement to encourage HE providers strongly to look at ways that they could reduce this gold-plating. This should include:

Reviewing their own schemes of delegation to ensure that they are fit for purpose, and that regulatory decisions and activity are clearly delegated to the right level in the provider. Not every decision needs to go to the Board of Governors, or through multiple layers of governance.

Ensuring that they remain focused on the content of the decisions they are making and the reasons for the decision, rather than ensuring that it goes to multiple committees.

Carefully considering which processes, committees, activities and external subscriptions genuinely add value for students and which could be dispensed with, to free up academic time for teaching and research.

Unnecessary bureaucracy can take up time that could be spent focusing on the academic experience or quality of teaching which a student receives. This Government and the OfS will continue to focus on this, but providers also need to look internally to do the same.