Leader: Quality regime enters uncharted territory

September 13, 2002

Universities presumably anticipated some discontent among professional bodies such as the Law Society when they were lobbying for the abolition of teaching quality assessments. Like prospective students and their parents, the professions want comparative information on the standard of courses, as well as a check on the curriculum. If they cannot get it from a system run by the academic world, they are bound to consider doing it themselves.

Law may be an exception to the professional rule, in that its regulatory bodies have never exercised the kind of control that their counterparts in other areas take for granted. Thousands of students take the subject each year without ever intending to practise. But that is also why self-regulation and assessment was much the best approach.

The quality regime emerging from the wreckage of the subject reviews may spare universities irksome bureaucracy without risking an undetected collapse in standards, but it will not provide the subject-specific intelligence that a variety of stakeholders require. Even by the standards of an understandably vague speech to vice-chancellors this week, Margaret Hodge's references to a "new focus on teaching quality" were particularly opaque. No doubt she would be delighted if the professions stepped up their involvement, but would academics?

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