Dandridge will take up the role at the newly-established higher education regulator in September, after eight years at the helm of UUK.
“The creation of the OfS presents an unparalleled opportunity to ensure that every student enjoys a rewarding educational experience and secures the outcomes that they want, whatever their background and whatever their aspirations,” she commented.
“This is a strong appointment to a crucial role”
The OfS was established under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which passed into law in April.
It will replace the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fairer Access once it is fully operational in April 2018.
“The new regulator will rightfully put the interests of students at the heart of regulation and play a pivotal role in reforming one of our nation’s greatest assets – the higher education sector,” commented universities minister Jo Johnson, who said he is “delighted” with the appointment.
Dandridge will work alongside educationist Michael Barber, who was nominated to become OfS chair in February.
“This is a vital role for the sector, and I am delighted that someone with Nicola’s experience of and enthusiasm for higher education has been appointed to shape and lead the Office for Students with Sir Michael Barber,” commented UUK president Julia Goodfellow.
“At UUK she has been a tireless advocate for our world-class higher education sector, and a champion of social mobility, equality and diversity, and of employability and outcomes for students.”
Dandridge has repeatedly called for reforms that would make the UK’s immigration system more welcoming to international students.
“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students and academics, it needs a new approach to immigration that is proportionate and welcoming for talented people from across the world,” she said in January in response to reports that international student numbers in UK higher education had flatlined.
Under Dandridge’s leadership, the association has lobbied for EU student welfare to be at the forefront of Brexit discussions.
Securing the rights of EU nationals and their dependents were at the top of a list of post-Brexit priorities laid out by UUK last month.
The announcement has been well received across the higher education sector.
“This is a strong appointment to a crucial role,” commented University Alliance chief executive Maddalaine Ansell.
“We are delighted that the first CEO of the Office for Students is someone who has a thorough understanding of the higher education sector and is such a highly respected figure.”
Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group, added: “Nicola brings a wealth of experience to this new role and is respected widely across the sector.”
Martin Coleman, a competition lawyer and current HEFCE board member, was also appointed as deputy chair of the OfS.
Five additional HEFCE board members will transfer to the OfS board: Carl Lygo, David Palfreyman, Gurpreet Dehal, Kate Lander and Steven West.
Additional board members will be appointed in the coming weeks, including a student representative.
UUK will announce its new chief executive in early September.