Joined-up models can pass the buck

August 5, 2010

It is remarkable to see how easily the heads of respectable universities are being seduced by models drawn from the market ("Global future: together alone", 29 July). There is clearly a strong case for inter-institutional collaboration where it uses resources more effectively. However, unless great care is taken, there can also be risks to governance and accountability from the multi-institutional linkages advocated by the University of Warwick's Nigel Thrift.

One of the fundamental roles of universities - arguably the key role - is the accreditation of knowledge, and the awarding of degrees is an important aspect of this. But in a collaborative arrangement involving study towards taught or research degrees, where does the responsibility lie for the standards of the award? Against which institution would any redress be sought? More generally, who is in charge of the brand?

This has already emerged as an issue with some of the existing cross-system providers, and we can expect it to arise more often as international collaboration increases. What safeguards will be put in place to avoid the all-important issue of accountability for quality and standards being muddied?

Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University.

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