This briefing is intended to provide a brief overview on the key provisions of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (thereafter referred to as the Act). The Act gained Royal Assent on the 27 April 2017 following consultation with the sector from the initial Green paper up to the committee, report and ‘ping pong’ stages in both Houses of Parliament. The General Election called by the Prime Minster for the 8 June meant that the Bill needed to gain Royal Assent or be dropped before the closure of Parliament on the 3 May.

The Higher Education sector in the UK is made up of four devolved nations, all with a designated funding body which have specific regulations on the release of data and the standards that the higher education institutions needed to meet. The Act is relevant to England with the other devolved nations subject to the act in specific areas such as; of rating the quality and standards to higher education, providing information on application to acceptance and research. The respective funding and regulatory bodies of the devolved nations are not changed.

As mentioned in other BAC publications, the higher education sector is big business. In England, the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) provides funding to 139 providers who can award degrees. The annual funding allocation from HEFCE to English higher education providers for the 2017/18 academic year is £3,536 million which is distributed to the providers.

Full text of the Act can be found here.

Explanatory notes of the Act is available here.

Some of the key information in the Act is listed below.

New sector regulator for England

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the office of Director of Fair Access to Higher Education will be replaced by the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS will operate from April 2018 and there will a transition period until then.

Register of higher education providers

The OfS will keep the register of providers, which is currently maintained by HEFCE. The register will include all providers whose students can receive access to public support. Other providers can apply to join the register but must comply with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator on student complaints procedure and they will not have access to OfS funding and/or student support.

Degree Awarding Powers (DAP) and University Title (UT)

The OfS can authorise a registered higher education provider to grant either taught and/or research degrees.

  • Taught degrees can include foundation degree and providers can be granted foundation degree only authorisation.
  • The OfS can restrict the DAP to specific subjects at a provider and can be time limited.
  • Foundation degree only authorisation requires the provider to be an English Further Education provider with a progression statement stating that graduates are able to progress to ‘one or more particular courses of more advanced study’.

‘University’ remains a protected term and use of it in an organisations name must be authorised by any Act or Royal Charter or approved by the OfS.

While there is not information entitled ‘probationary degree awarding power’s the Act does allow provision for DAP with a provider not requiring a track record of previous validation arrangements and conveys power to the OfS to set conditions for any DAP granted. This is an area which is likely to be included within any consultation relating to standards and frameworks (consultation expected in the Autumn).

Revocation of DAP

The OfS can vary or revoke DAP or UT by or under an Act of Parliament or by Royal Charter. However, this order can only be done if the provider meets one of the three conditions; 1) provider is not a registered provider, ii) OfS has concerns on the quality or standards that were so serious to require revoking authorisation or iii) there is a change in circumstances since the authorisation was given that gives the OfS concerns on quality and standards.  Prior to revoking DAP the OfS is required to request advice from either a relevant body concerning standards or if there is no such body, a committee is set up to review this.

Designation of quality and statistical bodies

The OfS will need to conduct a consultation on if there are appropriate bodies for quality and statistics that can be recommended to the Secretary of State. These bodies are currently the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The OfS will consult with:

  • Registered higher education providers comprising of a broad range of different types of providers
  • Individuals representing or promoting a broad range of students on HE courses provided in England by register higher education providers
  • Individuals representing or promoting a broad range of employers of graduates
  • Any other individuals considered appropriate by the OfS.

This is likely to take place in the autumn 2017 and will include how they will align with priorities of the sector and the OfS.

Further information is contained with Schedule 4 of the Act.

Student protection plans

According to the Act, a student protection plan is ‘a plan for the protection of students if an event specified by the OfS were to occur (for example, the closure of a course).’ There is not much detail on what should be contained in such a plan in the Act but it is one of the initial and ongoing registration conditions that the OfS will set. It is likely that the plans will include areas discussed during the passage of the Act through the Houses of Parliament.

While further details on the plans, which will have to be approved by the OfS, are likely to be included in a consultation on the regulatory framework you may find it of interest to read the earlier briefings on the plans, which can be found here.


The Act establishes a body called United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) which will consist of 9 Councils of UKRI (essentially maintaining the subject areas of the old research council). Research funding  to higher education providers across the UK will be made by UKRI.

Final thoughts

In general the Higher Education and Research Act has been welcomed by the sector. There are still aspects of it that will lead to further consultation prior to implementation so please do look at the consultation pages on in the Autumn for open consultations and their results.

BAC will continue to update providers through briefings and our newsletters.