Letter: Colleges deserve more praise

September 21, 2001

The headline "Colleges fall short of higher standard" ( THES , September 14) is misleading because it conveys a message of failure in further education without foundation.

The THES analysis of 59 Quality Assurance Agency reports came up with an average college score of 20.3 out of 24, compared with a "near universal excellence average score of 22.3 for the universities". Well just how bad is that?

Colleges achieved an average of just 2 points out of 24 below the universities. This outcome should be interpreted as a splendid achievement. After all, the FE sector's average score for business studies was only 0.7 of a point below that set by government and the QAA as warranting a lighter touch in the future.

But this article ignored such interpretation and instead said "students taking higher education courses in colleges are receiving a worse service than their university counterparts". No suggestion here that the quality of service in colleges is good, just that it is worse.

For most colleges, the business studies review was their first encounter with the QAA. It would be interesting to read the outcome of a THES analysis that looked at the average QAA scores for the first subject rounds achieved by some former polytechnics and indeed some universities.

If the universities feel that the QAA review process is too burdensome, too costly and too intrusive, one wonders how they would cope if subject to the volume of disparate inspection regimes in colleges?

The success of the government's policy for widening participation in higher education is dependent, in no small measure, on the performance of the FE sector. Clearly standards and the quality of higher education provision need to be assured. So when colleges meet the QAA requirements for assuring quality then such achievements should be recognised and celebrated.

It is as unfair to be continually compared with the "near universal excellence of the universities" as it would be for the former polytechnics to be continually subject to comparison with the Russell Group of universities.

The former polytechnics developed and matured over many years working with the Council for National Academic Awards. One wonders how the colleges offering higher education today would develop and mature if they too had such a supportive organisation behind them.

Peter Connell
Director of higher education
New College Durham

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