Quality threshold 'too low'

July 3, 1998

universities and colleges have warned quality watchdogs that they are in danger of "selling UK higher education short" with new definitions of standards.

Attempts by the Quality Assurance Agency to set degree pass levels known as "threshold standards" could leave the sector working to the lowest common denominator, they say.

Responses from 36 English higher education institutions to QAA proposals for a quality assurance system reveal there is concern that the new pass standards may prove irrelevant since most students now graduate with at least a second-class degree.

The QAA's paper on the responses, leaked to The THES, also uncovers confusion over the definition of subject thresholds and "benchmark" standards.

Benchmarks, which represent desirable levels of achievement in each subject area, are effectively the upper second-class degree, higher than the threshold pass.

Institutions felt threshold statements were "no basis for differentiation or comparison". They were also unhappy with the 41 subject categories drawn up by the QAA.

The agency says that calls for American studies to be separated from English rather than the subjects being lumped together is the only example of a "concerted campaign" for a specific change.

But its paper reveals widespread concern about the treatment of multidisciplinary study under proposals based on an "outdated" single-subject system. There were also concerns that the new system would threaten autonomy and academic freedom, possibly leading to the introduction of a higher education national curriculum.

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