GOC issues intention to withdraw approval for University of Portsmouth optometry course

The notice comes after the regulator initially suspended the recruitment of new students onto the four-year MOptom course in September

University of Portsmouth building
The University of Portsmouth has been issued with a notice by the General Optical Council (GOC) detailing its intention to withdraw provisional approval for its four-year Masters of Optometry course (10 December).

The statement has been issued after the GOC held a quality assurance visit at the university in November.

In a statement released by the GOC, the regulator said: “The university is working on a range of contingency options for the students and the GOC is in regular communication with the university and the Office for Students.”

The statement adds: “The University of Portsmouth has confirmed that 33 students will be affected by this decision and that they will be supported in line with their student protection plan.”

The background

The University of Portsmouth’s optometry programme welcomed its first cohort of undergraduates in 2016. However, in September this year, the GOC imposed a suspension of recruitment on the University of Portsmouth’s optometry course. This meant that no new optometry undergraduates were enrolled this academic year.

At the time, the intake restrictions affected nine students who had been due to start the four-year MOptom programme.

The suspension aimed to enable to university to focus its resources on addressing the GOC’s outstanding concerns, the regulator explained. After a follow up visit last month, the GOC has deemed that its concerns have “not been sufficiently rectified” by the university.

The University of Portsmouth has one month to appeal the GOC’s decision.

If the university appeals and is successful, the MOptom programme would have provisional approval and students would be able to continue their studies on the course, the GOC explained.

However, if the university chooses not to appeal, the regulator will withdraw provisional approval of the MOptom programme on 10 January. In doing so, it will grant provisional approval for the university to offer a BSc optometry exit programme for its current fourth year students, if they are eligible. For students in the second and third year of the course, the university will implement a student protection plan to support them in continuing their studies at a different university.

A statement released to OT by the University of Portsmouth read: “The University of Portsmouth remains committed to providing the very best outcome for our students. We are currently working on a range of contingency options for our students, according to the credits they have already achieved, which will include supporting them to apply to transfer to other courses. Level 7 students can be awarded a BSc Optometry (Hons) based on the work they have completed. Each student is being individually supported.”

When the GOC receives an application from a university to establish a new optometry course, it reviews submissions and conducts a site visit to determine if a course can receive provisional approval. In the application, the course provider must provide the regulator with evidence on how it meets the required standards. Provisional approval can be given to a course, which remain in this phase until the first cohort of students have successfully completed the course in full and all standard and requirements are met. 

AOP support for student members

Responding to the announcement, the AOP said: “We are very concerned to learn about the GOC’s notice of intention to withdraw provisional approval for the University of Portsmouth’s Masters of Optometry programme, and are working to support our members among the 33 students affected.

“We understand that students have been made aware of possible options available to them to continue their optometry studies, and that they will be met by the university on an individual basis to discuss these over the next few days. The University of Portsmouth will be required to compensate the affected students for any additional costs they will incur if the course cannot continue, and we welcome the university’s recent confirmation to students that it will do so.

“We also welcome the GOC’s intention to lift its cap on student numbers and staff: student ratios for other universities offering fully GOC-approved optometry courses so that affected Portsmouth students can transfer to study elsewhere. We hope that these universities will urgently consider whether they can take these students on to enable them to complete their optometry studies.

“We recommend that affected Portsmouth students read the FAQ document issued by the GOC, and that they continue to liaise with the University of Portsmouth through this process.”

The AOP stated that its legal team is available to offer advice to any student member who experiences difficulties obtaining compensation through the University of Portsmouth’s student protection plan or is not happy with the outcome.