External regulation and monitoring

The University must ensure it meets the standards as outlined by external, independent regulators in order to operate as a provider of higher education. The University is frequently reviewed by regulators, independent reviews and frameworks to ensure the quality and standard of what we offer at Essex.

The regulator for higher education and the Designated Quality Body (DQB) for providers

The government created the Office for Students (OfS) in January 2018 to act as a non-departmental public body of the Department of Education. The OfS formally acts as the regulator and competition authority for all Higher Education Institutions and Providers in England. The Higher Education Research Act 2017 (HERA) outlines the statutory provisions for quality and standards:

  • The OfS has the power to determine conditions of registration for quality and standards. The OfS have done this recently and produced revised the ‘B conditions’.

  • Section 23 of HERA 2017 states that the OfS must assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, quality and standards for providers seeking registration or those already registered as providers with degree awarding powers (DAPs). This duty is linked directly to the conditions of registration – the purpose of the assessment is to allow the OfS to determine whether the conditions are satisfied.

  • The OfS has powers to decide whether conditions have been satisfied as part of a registration decision or for a registered provider. The OfS have the powers to refuse registration or take further regulatory action where a provider is considered to have breached an ongoing condition.

  • The OfS is required by HERA to hold a designated body to account for the performance of the assessment functions. The OfS’s Quality Assessment Committee (QAC) is required to provide advice about how a designated body performs the assessment functions in practice.

  • In relation to Section 23, when there is a designated body, only the DQB may assess standards. However, both the OfS and the DQB can assess quality, utilising a mixed model of assessment.

  • None of the OfS’s other functions can be performed by a DQB. This means that determining the scope of conditions of registration, identifying providers for investigation, deciding breaches and further regulatory action, always sits with the OfS and cannot be delegated.

  • HERA also gives the OfS the power to give general directions to a DQB about the performance of any of the assessment functions. In issuing a general direction the OfS is required to have regard to the need to protect the expertise of the DQB, and the ability of the DQB to undertake an impartial assessment of quality or standards for an individual provider.

  • The OfS is also required to make a triennial report to the Secretary of State on matters including how the DQB has performed the assessment functions and whether it should continue to be designated.

  • The OfS’s approach to its oversight functions flows from the way the statutory framework is structured in HERA and this limits the ability of a DQB to decide, independently of the OfS, how it performs the assessment functions.

Change in Designated Quality Body (DQB)  

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) was designated to carry out assessment functions for the OfS in 2018.

In July 2022 the QAA asked the Secretary of State for Education to remove its designation to perform the assessment functions in England from the end of March 2023.

The University of Essex continues to be a member of the QAA. The QAA continues to provide complementary guidance and common practice to support higher education providers with ensuring students are provided with the best possible learning experience. The QAA is the educational oversight body only for those providers not eligible to register with the OfS.

From 1 April 2023 the OfS became responsible for all quality and standards assessments for an interim period. During this period the OfS are considering options for longer-term arrangements. The OfS will continue to discuss a range of options with sector representative groups and updates will be provided to registered providers.


Arrangements from 1 April 2023

The OfS currently undertake the following assessment activities as the interim DQB:

  1. Quality and standards review (QSRs) for providers seeking registration (available for providers that applied for registration before 1 May 2022).
  2. Standards assessments for the purpose of assessing initial condition B8 for providers that applied for registration after 1 May 2022.
  3. Assessments for DAPs.
  4. External Quality Assurance (EQA) of end-point assessments for integrated higher and degree apprenticeships.
  5. In addition, the OfS will continue to undertake quality assessments as part of its programme of investigations arising from concerns about compliance with ongoing conditions of registration relating to quality.

Our registration with the OfS and obligations

The University is registered with the OfS as a provider with degree-awarding powers (DAPs). This means the University must meet the requirements as set out in the conditions of registration.

The University's academic policies, procedures and guidance are also written with due regard to good practice as outlined in the Quality Code published by the QAA. Quality and Academic Development (QUAD) team members continue to attend QAA events to ensure our quality assurance and enhancement activity and guidance is continuously developed. The UK Quality Code for Higher Education (the Quality Code) is a key element of the guidance produced by the QAA.

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The University of Essex delivers “very high quality education”, according to the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and received a Silver rating overall in September 2023. The rating will last four years, subject to Essex remaining eligible to retain its rating.

The student experience and outcomes at Essex are both rated Silver by the TEF panel as they are also rated as “typically very high quality”, with the judges stating there were “numerous examples of very high quality practices related to teaching, learning and assessment”.

The panel report said the University “fosters a supportive learning environment, and its students have access to a readily available range of very high-quality academic support”.

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the national assessment of research quality and impact. The REF replaced the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which was last conducted in 2008. The results are used by the UK’s higher education funding bodies to allocate around £2 billion each year to university research.

The REF is made up of several different measures and we focus on research intensity, which looks at the quality of research, its impact, the research environment and the proportion of staff submitted to the REF. We call this ‘research excellence’.

Our ranking

Our performance in specific areas of assessment shows Essex's strengths as a centre of research excellence.

Essex is ranked 1st for research impact in modern languages and linguistics, 1st for research environment in sociology and 2nd for research output in politics and international studies.

We have five subjects in the UK top 10 for research power across the social sciences, arts and humanities, and science and health – sociology, law, economics and econometrics, politics and international studies and computer science.

Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs)

“Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) are a very diverse group of professional and employer bodies, regulators and those with statutory authority over a profession or group of professionals. PSRBs engage with higher education as regulators. They provide membership services and promote the interests of people working in professions; accredit or endorse courses that meet professional standards, provide a route through to the professions or are recognised by employers.” (HESA, 2012).

It is therefore important to take PSRB requirements into account when designing new, and amending existing, courses and modules, because they ensure that courses meet the professional standards and quality required for students to gain the knowledge and skills they need for their future careers.

PSRB accreditation, approval or recognition

Students may make decisions on whether to take a course on the basis of links with a PSRB, so it should be made clear in any published information to students what the status of accreditation is, what accreditation is possible, and what students need to achieve to gain accreditation (including whether this is automatic or whether students need to apply separately). Where an application has been made for accreditation, but this has not yet been confirmed, this should be clear in the information prospective and current students are provided with.

Methods and the frequency of accreditation (of any type) vary. Departments should ensure that clear information is provided on the PSRB requirements for accreditation when asking for approval of new and amended courses.

Information on accreditation is published in programme specifications, in Course Finder, and in the prospectus. It’s also collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) who share the information with public authorities who require it to carry out their statutory and/or public functions. The information is also published on Discover Uni, the official website that holds data on undergraduate courses at universities.

It’s therefore essential for information on links with PSRBs to be clear and accurate.

Responsibility for PSRB information and links

Responsibility for maintaining links with PSRBs rests with the departments. Departments are responsible for the areas listed below to ensure the information we hold and publish is accurate. Heads of Department and Department Managers should allocate these tasks to a specific member or members of staff the department.

  1. Maintain contact and links with the PSRBs that accredit, approve or recognise their courses.
  2. Submit applications for PSRB accreditation (of any type).
  3. Liaise with PSRBs over requirements, and provide information about these requirements when requesting approval of new or amended courses and modules.
  4. Maintain records of PSRB accreditation (of any type), including information about the dates and frequency of review or re-accreditation. 
  5. Ensure that the University’s records and published information is accurate and up-to-date. Departments will be asked to actively review and confirm all course accreditations annually via Curriculum Update. Departments should also periodically review the information held in ESIS and the centralised accreditation Box folders (and any other published information) to ensure it is accurate. Please contact the Quality and Academic Development Team (QUAD) by emailing quad@essex.ac.uk for access to your Departmental accreditation Box folder. 
  6. Check that PSRB webpages (or other forms of published information) are accurate. Departments should ensure information on ESIS and information that is published on both University and PSRB webpages is consistent and accurate. Please contact Course Records (crt@essex.ac.uk) for information and advice on accessing your Departmental accreditation records on ESIS.
  7. Notify QUAD in advance of when an accreditation visit or review is due. If you have any upcoming accreditation reviews or visits from PSRBs scheduled, please inform QUAD as soon as possible. A representative from QUAD and/or a Dean would be invited to observe PSRB visits and/or any meetings to confirm outcomes. This is particularly key when this coincides with a Periodic Review or course validation event, so the department and QUAD can arrange the event to meet the needs of the PSRB and the University as effectively as possible.
  8. Organise and manage the arrangements for visits by PSRBs.
  9. Send copies of schedules and key correspondence concerning accreditation visits and information about forthcoming accreditation to QUAD and their Faculty. Decisions and outcomes from accreditation reviews and reports should also be made available to QUAD as soon as they are available and will be reported to Academic Quality and Standards Committee.
  10. Include the response to recommendations from PSRB accreditation processes in the Annual Review of Courses and Periodic Review processes.


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Quality and Academic Development
Telephone: 01206 873944