Student Protection Plan | AUA Blog
Mary Curnock Cook OBE
Honorary President of the AUA
One of the features of the new Office for Students regulatory framework is the ‘Student Protection Plan’ (Condition C3) which all registered providers are required to publish. The plan is required to set out the ‘provider’s assessment of the risks to the continuation of study of the provider’s students, the likelihood that those risks will crystallise, and the severity of the impact on students should the risks crystallise’. Providers are required to set out their plans in respect of risks that are likely to materialise.
On the face of it, this regulatory requirement is a policy signal that the Government believes no university is ‘too big to fail’ and that there will not be a publicly-funded safety net for providers at risk of going under. Student Protection Plans are designed to ensure that in the event of a provider closing its doors, alternative arrangements are in place for students to continue their studies. However, the Office for Students will also regulate providers on the basis of their financial viability and sustainability (Condition D) looking for evidence ‘that there is no reason to suppose the provider is at material risk of insolvency within a period of three years from the date on which the judgement is made’. This regulatory condition should, in theory, offer students protection from institutional failure.
However, it is worth looking at the recent case of the London College of Contemporary Media (LCCM) which went into administration briefly before being rescued at the last minute by Global University Systems (GUS). As reported on WonkHE , LCCM had passed all its financial sustainability, management and governance (FSMG) checks, yet HEFCE was only aware that it was going into administration the day before it happened. The OfS would perhaps be better advised to put its regulatory heft behind meaningful regulation of financial health if it wants to protect students from institutional closure. This is especially the case where private providers rely on third party funders for their financial security.
That said, Student Protection Plans are also designed to provide protection from course and programme closures and their impact on students. Course closure is a much more regular occurrence than institutional closure and students rightly want to feel confident that their interests will be looked after when this happens. Arguably, this is covered by Condition C1 – Guidance on Consumer Protection Law. Here providers are expected to enter into Student Contracts which, amongst other things, include the contract for academic services.
For all the circularity of the OfS Regulations, the best protection for students is a university that emphatically has the interests of its students at the forefront of its strategy. A sound reputation, successful and satisfied students who look forward to good employment prospects, and a well-understood psychological contract between institution and students about how both parties contribute to student success, will ensure financial and academic sustainability. A Student Protection Plan will do little to offer additional assurance to students.