Buckingham: why QAA has 'serious' concerns

October 23, 2008

The judgment by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) of limited confidence in the University of Buckingham was made for sound and serious reasons, and not for those suggested by Terence Kealey ("Trust and transparency are frowned upon while degree inflation soars", 16 October).

The report, which can be read on our website www.qaa.ac.uk/news/default.asp#reports, makes it clear that the judgment was made for two main reasons. Firstly, because of concerns about standards set for taught postgraduate programmes, and secondly, because the university has no formal arena for considering ethical issues related to research activity, a lack that gave rise to specific, serious concerns within the audit team.

The report also identifies further matters, including problems with the university's relationship with external examiners, and with its engagement with external expectations.

This judgment was made by a very experienced and fully trained audit team. The university took part voluntarily in the audit process, presumably because it wished to be seen to uphold the same standards as the rest of the sector.

It is therefore perfectly reasonable that it should undergo the same review process as other institutions. It is less reasonable for it to cry foul because it doesn't like the outcome.

Responsibility for upholding standards lies primarily with institutions themselves, and this requires reliable processes, which it is the role of the QAA to review. When an institution has well-placed confidence that its processes are effective, then trust and academic autonomy can flourish.

But when these are not effective, and put standards at risk, they should be changed. I hope that our report will enable the University of Buckingham to take the necessary steps.

Peter Williams, Chief executive, Quality Assurance Agency.

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