News blog: Groundhog Day for quality assurance?

In this blog, news editor Simon Baker considers whether we’ve seen it all before with Hefce’s proposals

June 29, 2015
Groundhog Day as groundhog emerges from its burrow
Source: iStock

So after a long wait, Hefce’s plans for overhauling the quality assurance framework in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have finally been published.

Thanks to an early draft of the document that has been circulating within the sector for weeks, much of it is not a surprise. Its focus is on cutting the red tape for established universities by removing cyclical reviews and relying instead on metrics to indicate when an institution may need a closer look.

If this idea feels a bit familiar – like a remake of Groundhog Day but on a quality assurance theme (don’t worry, I don’t think that’s coming to a cinema near you soon) – that’s because it is.

Less than three years ago, Hefce rejected a proposal to remove cyclical reviews for those universities not thought to be “risky”, disappointing the Russell Group and presumably the government, which had pushed the idea of a risk-based system in its 2011 White Paper.

So what’s changed to mean Hefce now are in favour of a fully light-touch regime? Did David Willetts finally twist someone’s arm on his way out? Does Madeleine Atkins have a different view from her predecessor Sir Alan Langlands? Has the steady drip drip of headlines on grade inflation finally been too much to bear? (Indeed one interesting point in the consultation is a call for consistency in the way grades are calculated.)

The answer may not be clear, but it certainly looks as if regular reviews for the many, if not the few, are on the way out. Of course the irony is that just as this is mooted, another regular regulatory burden could descend on universities: the government’s proposed teaching excellence framework – which itself could end up being a trigger for quality reviews.

So in what would be a perverse red tape double whammy, if you get a bad TEF, you may find the quality assurance people back on your campus doorstep in a jiffy.

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