Letter: How the screw was put in scrutiny (4)

August 31, 2001

The resignation of the QAA chief executive is not significant compared with the damage that may result if the plans for a severe reduction in quality assurance activity are adopted.

My experience of some 60 subject assessment visits has revealed outstanding teaching, dedicated staff and committed students. But this has been tempered by departments in which about 5 per cent of staff know anything about the assessment exercise and the remainder insist on telling reviewers about their 5* research rating. More alarming is how documents, such as meeting notes and lab reports, suddenly appear on the final morning of a visit.

Most education gurus have never fully appreciated that quality involves continuous improvement; that today's student cohort is different from that of 20 years ago; and that audit can never monitor the student experience as assessment processes do regularly. The cause of the assessment burden was the parlous state we were in when we started. Next time, the task would be much smaller, surely?

My sympathy for the departing QAA chief is limited, but my sorrow at the demise of an instrument that maintained the worldwide reputation of higher education is enormous. Let's hope we do not need to reinvent the system again.

W. J. Plumbridge
Open University

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