In July 2018 Ofqual published a call for evidence into fee information, purchasing decisions and securing value for money in the regulated qualifications market.
Ofqual received 44 direct responses to the survey, of which 37 were complete and eligible for inclusion. The responses came from 9 qualifications purchasers (schools, colleges or training centres), 24 awarding organisations, and 4 industry bodies. Additional discussions were held with a focus group attended by representatives from awarding organisations, in meetings with industry bodies and via teleconferences with representatives of large colleges.
The call for evidence identified some consistent themes both within and across the responder groups, as well as revealing instances of differing opinion.
Due to a low response rate from qualification purchasers, we cannot assume that responses from our sample are reflective of the entire sector. However, the industry body views, representing many additional purchasers, complement the views of the direct responses. Particularly consistent was the assertion that qualification costs and fees are not of primary importance to centres when selecting a qualification. Educational factors such as course content and the level of service and support offered by the awarding organisation are identified throughout the responses as being major determinants of centres’ choices.
However, industry body responses suggest that, with growing financial pressures on schools and colleges, the relative importance of cost is likely to increase.
On the availability of information, conversely, there was disparity between the views of the qualification providers and purchasers. Purchasers reported some difficulty accessing information and expressed very little confidence that they had secured value for money with their purchasing decisions. The awarding organisations believed that their fee structures were clear and transparent and that their prices represented good value for the services and products provided.
There was also some disagreement between responder groups regarding the necessity of regulation in this sector. Purchasers and their representative industry bodies were overtly welcoming of Ofqual’s call for evidence and identified a very real need for standardisation of qualification fee structures and for greater price transparency. Some awarding organisations were also supportive of greater price transparency. Others were not in favour of further regulatory action and expressed concerns regarding Ofqual’s intentions and the extent of its powers, for example in relation to the use of fee-capping.