Nicola Dandridge to step down from Office for Students next year


Chief executive’s departure may help new chair to reshape English sector regulator

November 9, 2021

Chris Havergal

Nicola Dandridge will step down as chief executive of England’s higher education regulator next year, potentially handing the Conservative peer who chairs the Office for Students further scope to reshape the organisation.

Ms Dandridge, a former Universities UK chief executive who has led the OfS since its creation in 2017, will step down at the end of April 2022, it was announced on 9 November.

The announcement comes after Lord Wharton of Yarm, a former MP who chaired Boris Johnson’s Tory party leadership campaign, took over from Sir Michael Barber as chair of OfS earlier this year.

In a letter to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi and higher education minister Michelle Donelan, Ms Dandridge says she is “enormously proud” of the OfS’ achievements since it took on its regulatory powers in 2018.

“We have established ourselves as a new regulator for students in a sector that has never been regulated in this way before,” she writes. “We have developed a robust and innovative approach to regulating quality and equality of opportunity, taken decisive action in a number of cases where quality and governance were inadequate, and overseen demonstrable progress on social mobility.

“We worked closely and effectively with government during the disruption of the pandemic, and ensured that there were no disorderly university failures. Our new strategy, on which we are about to consult, is proportionate and informed. I leave a strong team who are well positioned to take forward its implementation.”

Sector experts have previously suggested that the appointment of another figure from the university sector as OfS chief executive, like Ms Dandridge, seems unlikely.

Commenting on Ms Dandridge’s departure, Lord Wharton said that her “experience, diligence and determination has been key to the success of the OfS”.

“Nicola has retained an absolute focus on the OfS’ role to protect the interests of students, particularly in work to raise the quality bar in higher education, and to improve equality of opportunity for students of all backgrounds,” Lord Wharton said.

“I am grateful for all of her support since I took up the post of OfS chair earlier this year, and on behalf of everyone at the OfS thank her for her enormous contribution. As Nicola leaves, our executive team and the OfS will work to deliver our new strategy.”

Mr Zahawi said that details of the recruitment process to replace Ms Dandridge would be announced “in due course”.