Leader: There is quality assurance, then there is the QAA

June 22, 2001

Reaction to news that incoming universities' minister Margaret Hodge may put her weight behind the Quality Assurance Agency has been greeted with a collective "Oh No!" and a deluge of vulgar abuse (letters). What she told The THES , however, indicates that the QAA, too, should be concerned. Ms Hodge wants a quality assurance system that commands "the respect of all the players".

This is so manifestly not the case at present that her support must surely be contingent on reform. If, for example, she wants quality assurance reports to be useful and accessible to students who are choosing courses in higher education, the sort of reports that generate league tables are inevitable. If the purpose is to improve teaching, the public pillorying that such tables inevitably involve for the less fashionable is unhelpful.

A major problem with the QAA is that its purposes are confused. It is presented as a means of providing information to students; as a means of making universities accountable to the taxpayer; as a means of improving teaching in higher education; as a means of standardising degrees; and as a system for kite-marking institutions that are selling their services in the international market.

It is doubtful that a single agency could fulfil all these disparate tasks. It is certain that the present arrangements are over-intrusive and bureaucratic and give rise to game playing. So, minister, let us by all means have a robust quality assurance system, but let no one suppose that what we have now fits the bill.

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