The High Court has granted permission for a judicial review of the Office for Students’ (OfS) refusal to register Bloomsbury Institute.
The hearing will take place from 10 February 2020.
The OfS decision centred on the continuation rates of Institute students and their progression into employment. As a result, new students at Bloomsbury Institute are notable to access loans from the Student Loans Company.
John Fairhurst, Academic Principal and Managing Director of Bloomsbury Institute, said:
“The OfS decision is unlawful, unreasonable, disproportionate, and contrary to its own obligations.
“The OfS has a statutory duty under the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) to have regard for equality of opportunity, yet its approach penalises smaller institutions who specialise in helping students who are typically excluded from higher education.
“Taking the extreme step of refusing registration undermines current and new students and ignores our track record of providing good quality education.
“We are confident that our case will be successful and that this will have a major impact on the sector.”
The Institute’s case is that, in refusing the application, the OfS:
- Ignored the Quality AssuranceAgency’s (QAA) positive assessments and commendations of Bloomsbury Institute Quality.
- Failed to consider the characteristics of the Institute’s students and in doing so contravened its own obligation to promote equality of opportunity in relation to participation in higher education.
- Failed to consult when setting the baselines that it applied in deciding to refuse registration to a provider.
- Discriminated against the Institute by holding it to identical standards as higher education providers with very different student bodies.
- Acted contrary to its own guidance – with a disproportionate impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority and mature students - in refusing to treat foundation year students differently to first year students in its assessment.
Sarah Bailey, Director of Bloomsbury Institute’s Centre for Student Engagement, Wellbeing and Success, added:
“We are proud to open our doors to students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to study and support them on each and every step of their journey.
“Our approach helps level the playing field for disadvantaged students and the regulator should be working with us, rather than using data as a blunt instrument to try and shut us down."
Responding to a Freedom of Information request from Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP, Bloomsbury Institute's legal team, the OfS disclosed data which demonstrates a huge disparity – with significant implications for equality of opportunity - between the student cohorts of those registered by the OfS and those refused registration. The proportion of black, Asian and ethnic minority students in those granted registration was, for instance, 15%. In those refused registration it was 67%.
“This decision-making process clearly discriminates against under-represented students and those with protected characteristics,” added Mr Fairhurst.
Absence from the register can also affect an institution’s fee levels, capacity to access public grants and ability to recruit international students.
As set out in QAA annual reviews, including the Higher Education Review, and the fact that the Institute had been under detailed scrutiny for over a year regarding its application for taught degree awarding powers.
In 2018/19 Bloomsbury Institute had over 2,200 students, with 88% of its new students studying a foundation year, of whom 80% did not have A-levels or equivalent qualifications. Around 90% of its students are from lower income households, 85% of students are mature students, 16% have a disability and 68% are from black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups. The OfS judgement fails to take this into account.
These ‘minimum’ requirements were determined without taking advice from the DfE (the previous regulator), the QAA (the designated quality body under the Act), HESA (the designated data body under the Act), or the OfS’ own Quality Assessment Committee, and without sector consultation ordue regard to whether those baselines would lead to a reduction in higher education places for those with under-represented or protected characteristics.This constituted a breach not only of the of the OfS’ duty to consult but also of its obligation to carry out its regulatory activities in a way that is “transparent,accountable, proportionate and consistent”. The unfairness was exacerbated by the fact that the baselines were never published, as providers could reasonably have expected.
Bloomsbury Institute Limited application has been refused
The application has been refused today (4 Jul) because the initial conditions of registration, as set out in our regulatory framework, have not been satisfied. Specifically, the OfS is concerned about the quality of outcomes for students, and considers that Bloomsbury Institute does not satisfy the following initial conditions of registration:
- Condition B3 – Quality
- Condition E2 – Management and governance.
Further details of the reasons for refusal are set out on our website.
The Office for Students has been working with the Bloomsbury Institute to ensure that the interests of students currently studying there are protected. As a result, the Office for Students has agreed that students currently studying at Bloomsbury Institute will be able to continue to access student loans until 31 July 2022 in order for them to continue their studies. Any new students will not be able to access loans from the Student Loans Company.
The Office for Students is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
Conditions of registration are the primary tool that the OfS uses to regulate individual higher education providers. They are minimum requirements that providers must meet in order to be/stay registered with us, because they demonstrate that the provider is able to offer high quality higher education to students.
Our conditions are set out in detail in our regulatory framework.
The Bloomsbury Institute will need to meet a range of requirements - including around financial viability - in order for current students to continue to access loans from the Student Loans Company until 31 July 2022. The Office for Students will continue to monitor that these requirements are being met, and can take action if they are not.