Beyond the (reportable) event horizon

The new guidance on Reportable Events from the Office for Students will be taking effect from 1 January 2022. Chris Ince, University Secretary & Chief Compliance Officer at University of Hull offers his opinion on the Advice.

An Event Horizon can be defined as “a boundary beyond which events cannot affect an observer”. For most people this means a black hole, with a gravity so strong not even light can escape. Anyway – on to talking about Reportable Events and the Office for Students….

I’m sure many of you were very excited that your Vice-Chancellor got a letter around 20th October 2021 on the new requirements for reportable events? These provide greater clarity (it says so in the letter, so it must be true) on what these are from 1 January 2022 and the move away from the reduced reporting requirements during Covid.

Actually, I initially skimmed the letter and got to Schedule 1 that set out events or matters which are always reportable for the Provider and it said “There are no events or matters in this category, for the Provider at this time”. For a fraction of a second I thought we no longer had to report anything; how wrong I was.

The new guidance is set out in Regulatory Advice 16: reportable Events and this takes the requirements that are set out in paragraph 494 of the Regulatory Framework and, in summary, looks at what institutions should, or should not, report.

Prior to Covid the experience of submitting a Reportable Event was somewhat mixed (so my limited survey tells me) with often no idea of what happened once the form had been completed on the exciting upload section of the OfS Portal. In fairness to the OfS, I had a very productive email exchange with them earlier this year about one of our collaborative partners and they were most helpful. In the end we didn’t submit a formal report.

During Covid the reporting requirements were very curtailed but from 1 January 2022 this will all change. The latest Advice lists over 40 examples of events that might require reporting and if they are always required or if the institution needs to make a risk-based decision. These range from the change of Vice-Chancellor (always report, obviously….) to legal or court action (make your own assessment on if it is over the “material threshold”)

The list is, in my opinion, very helpful although it does state it is a “Non-exhaustive, illustrative list of reportable events, which includes some events that are always reportable”. In other words – make your own decisions but if we review them later and decide otherwise, we were right…. This still remains a vague area; we do have a greater insight of the rules of the game but not all of them.

So, in summary – some advice from me (feel free to ignore!) on this:

  • Do read the guidance, it’s only around 20 pages
  • Make sure your colleagues have an idea of what events might need reporting
  • Contact the OfS informally to ask questions – they can be quite helpful!
  • Report promptly when you do need to
  • Consider an agreed process for how Events are considered, reported and audit trails kept

I’m off to watch Laurence Fishburne – but probably in The Matrix rather than Event Horizon.