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  3. Legal, regulatory and charitable status

Legal, regulatory and charitable status

Legal Status

The Open University (OU) is a chartered institution and was granted its Royal Charter on 23 April 1969.  It is registered at Companies House under number RC 000391.

The OU is self-governing and legally independent of government.  However, much of the legislation applying to public bodies also applies to the OU, including that relating to equality, freedom of information and procurement.

Charter

The constitution of the University is set out in the Charter and Statutes, which outline the OU’s objects, powers and framework of governance.  Authority in the OU derives ultimately from the Charter, principally through the Council, the Senate or the Vice-Chancellor.

Changes to the Charter and Statutes require a special resolution of the OU Council and approval of the Privy Council.

Regulatory Status

The OU is regulated principally by the Office for Students (OfS), which defines the conditions under which the University receives public funds.  The OfS replaces the former Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).  Operating throughout the UK, the OU also receives funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

The OU is required to have robust systems of risk management and internal control, to use public funds only for the purposes for which they were intended, to report in specified ways and to have specified arrangements for audit.

As a condition of OfS funding the University subscribes to the designated quality body - Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the designated data body Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Quality, Standards and Complaints

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)  is an independent agency which, on behalf of universities collectively and the higher education funding bodies in the UK, monitors and advises on standards and quality in UK higher education.  The QAA publishes the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (the Quality Code), which sets out the expectations that all providers of UK higher education are required to meet.

The University also subscribes to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator as required by the Higher Education Act 2004.

Good Governance

The OU benchmarks its system of governance with the codes and principles that are considered to be best practice in the higher education sector.  The Higher Education Code of Governance developed by the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) sets out its core values and primary elements on the basis of ‘apply or explain’; whilst the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance requires governing bodies to ‘comply or explain’ with its main principles.

Charitable Status

The OU is an exempt charity in England and Wales, which means that, under the terms of the Charities Act 2011, it is not subject to regulation by the Charity Commission, but by its principal regulator, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).  The OU is also registered as a charity in Scotland, as it is a ‘cross border’ charity having premises in Scotland (number SC 038302).