Seven unis 'fail' strict title test

四月 9, 1999

At least seven universities would be denied their university status if they had to apply for the title under tough new criteria proposed by the Quality Assurance Agency.

Under confidential plans before ministers, aspiring universities will have to demonstrate an impeccable five-year quality record before being granted the coveted university title.

Any institution with "unsatisfactory" grades from any teaching quality assessment carried out in the five years before an application will not be eligible for the title. More controversially, any institution that has been asked for a quality "improvement plan" by the QAA in the five years before applying will also be excluded.

Vice-chancellors and principals have expressed concerns about the sweeping new powers for the QAA under the proposed criteria, which the agency has not made public.

Geoffrey Alderman, pro-vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, who has seen the plans, said they were "dangerously woolly".

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said that the QAA had no formal powers to demand an improvement plan from institutions unless they failed assessments. "Does this mean that any institution can be excluded just because the QAA shoots off a letter requesting an improvement plan?" he asked. "There are some serious issues here. The QAA keeps moving the goal posts."

Currently, institutions that receive a single unsatisfactory grade - grade one - in any of six criteria under the teaching quality assessment, fail their assessment. These will automatically be excluded from applying for university status.

But under terms imposed by the QAA last year, without consultation with the sector, any institution that receives three or more low grade twos in the inspection will be asked for an improvement plan. Although the QAA has no formal powers to demand such a plan, or to reinspect an institution that falls into this category, it is understood that these institutions will also fall foul of the planned new criteria for university status.

Old universities that would be denied their status if they were applying under these conditions include the University of East Anglia, which received three grade twos for its sociology provision in 1995, and Leeds University, which failed an assessment of its media studies provision in the 1996-98 assessment round, although it passed a reinspection.

Five new universities would also be excluded: East London, Thames Valley, De Montfort, Hertfordshire and Central Lancashire. All received three or more grade twos in the 1996-98 assessment.

A further 11 higher education colleges would be automatically excluded from applying for the title. Of those seeking university status, Bolton Institute would fall foul of the new rules, as it failed a media studies teaching assessment in 1996-98. Other aspiring universities would be safe.

The QAA has also requested that powers should be established, through primary legislation, to remove previously irrevocable degree-awarding powers where institutions have allowed standards to slip.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said it would be "developing our response" to the plans over the next two weeks.

A spokeswoman for the QAA said that chief executive John Randall was not prepared to discuss any details of the plans until he had met ministers later this month.

QAA proposals

* The QAA should have new powers to remove degree-awarding powers from universities.

* Institutions should apply separately for undergraduate and postgraduate degree-awarding powers.

* Any institution applying for the title "university" or "university college"

must not have had any unsatisfactory teaching quality assessment results or an "improvement plan" in the past five years.

* Any institution applying for the title "university" or "university college"

must not have had an academic audit that identified "serious weaknesses" in the past five years.

* Applicants for the title "university college" must have had at least five years' experience of providing taught higher education programmes through a validating body.

* All newly created universities should be subject to the scrutiny of an academic advisory committee, appointed by the Privy Council, to keep standards under review.

* FE colleges with a strong higher education record would be able to apply for degree-awarding powers for the first time.

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