Let's cheer QAA plan

March 28, 2003

The Quality Assurance Agency's future policy, as outlined by chief executive Peter Williams, is the third attempt in 100 years to put a buffer between state and universities ("Rest assured we will defend the core values", THES , March 14).

The first was the Universities Grants Committee - a creature of the universities that held all the power but left the government to foot the bill. The second is the Higher Education Funding Council for England - a creature of a government that holds the purse strings but makes universities responsible for carrying out its diktats. Such a divorce of responsibility from power - either way - is unsustainable in the long run.

Williams' proposal tries to be even-handed. It accepts the government's right to impose short-term objectives on universities but, in proposing values that go beyond short-term expediency, the QAA implies that universities have other legitimate purposes that the state has a responsibility to fund.

In this way, the statement implies that the QAA wants to look, Janus-like, in both directions and balance powers and responsibilities of state and universities. This gives real hope for a concordat between universities and state, and should be cheered by all who have the fundamental interests of both at heart.

Lewis Elton
Professor of higher education
University College London

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