Letter: Care and share v. kiss of death (2)

July 13, 2001

Like the monster in a badly made horror movie that refuses to die, the Quality Assurance Agency looks set to stagger on. Even the new blueprint from vice-chancellors and funding chiefs ("Split over subject review secrecy", THES , July 6) appears inadequate.

Instead of tinkering at the edges, the sector needs to take a fresh look at standards. The mix of regulation and bureaucracy has clearly failed to deliver the transparent checks on the system the government had hoped for. And there is not a credible person left who can claim the QAA offers potential students guidance on where and what to study. Is it not about time we approached quality in a new way?

The crux of the problem with the QAA is bureaucracy. This Frankenstein's monster needs to be slain and its component parts returned to agencies better equipped to serve universities. Institutional quality audits could be left with a new slimline QAA.

The Learning and Teaching Support Network could take responsibility for quality, with much greater emphasis on the dissemination of good practice. Degree standards could be assured through a properly funded external examiner system. The Higher Education Staff Development Agency could ensure guidance on peer review and monitoring of teaching.

Each agency should report annually to a steering committee on which all stakeholders are represented. This body would produce a progress report for public scrutiny.

The QAA is unacceptable in its current form. Regulation should fit the needs of higher education rather than distort the sector to fit the whims and functions of the regulator.

Is it wrong to dream of a quality regime that provides practical support to teaching staff instead of just subjecting them to overbearing and largely useless assessment? And when we have sorted that out, let us start applying some creative thinking to the research assessment exercise.

David Triesman
General secretary
Association of University Teachers

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