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Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education: De-designation as Designated Quality Body

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

Today, I am announcing the de-designation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as designated quality body (DQB) for higher education in England under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA).

Assessing quality and standards is an integral part of considering applications to join the Office for Students (OFS) register, which enables providers to access student finance, sponsor visas for international students, and to become eligible to be granted degree-awarding powers among other benefits.

HERA makes provision for a body to be designated to carry out assessment functions under the Act. The DQB assesses quality and standards in relation to relevant conditions for providers registered or registering with the OFS. It also provides advice to the OFS regarding quality and standards in connection with the grant, variation and revocation of providers’ degree awarding powers.

QAA has been designated since April 2018. On 20 July 2022, QAA announced that it would no longer consent to be the DQB after the current DQB year ends on 31 March 2023. The OFS supports QAA’s request for its designation to be removed given that it has significant concerns about QAA’s performance, which it has set out in its triennial report on the DQB’s performance.

The Secretary of State is required to consult before removing the designation, even where the DQB has asked to be de-designated. Accordingly, my Department consulted from 8 February to 3 March 2023. The Government response to this consultation will be published today. An overall majority of responses—31 of 47—disagreed with de-designation. I have considered these responses carefully and appreciate that a number of higher education providers would prefer QAA to remain as DQB. However, QAA has made it clear that it would no longer be content to be the DQB. I also note that the majority of responses from representative bodies on behalf of their members agreed with de-designation, including Universities UK which represents 140 providers.

Having considered the responses to the consultation, and QAA’s decision to step down from the DQB role, I have concluded that QAA should be de-designated as DQB. I will therefore publish a notice to remove the designation with effect from 1 April 2023.

Where no body is designated to perform the assessment functions, the functions revert to the OFS. The OFS has confirmed that, from 1 April 2023, it will undertake all quality and standards assessment activity on an interim basis pending further consideration of future arrangements. The DFE, OFS and HE stakeholders will work closely to consider options for long-term arrangements for the assessment of quality and standards.

I will deposit a copy of the Government response to this consultation in the Libraries of both Houses.