Letter: QAA moratorium (2)

September 14, 2001

John Randall's examples of "weaknesses threatening standards at some of Britain's universities" ("Mr Randall points out the fallible", THES , September 7) are interesting in the light of the proposals to reduce subject review substantially and to concentrate external review on an audit approach.

None of the examples of failures or poor quality that Randall refers to would have been picked up by an institutional audit.

The problems, some of which cast serious doubts over the integrity and rigour of central university systems, were identified only through careful scrutiny by subject specialists.

The Leeds example is interesting. Despite all the contradictory indicators for subject review, the continuation auditors in 2000 gave Leeds a clean bill of health. It seems as if the auditors were oblivious to the concerns raised in subject review reports.

The auditors failed to respond to the explicit invitation extended in the second of the reports on communication and media. They were invited to pay specific attention to the external assurance of quality and standards by external examiners. This was a problem area noted also in the report on anatomy.

It is surprising the auditors could not find more to say than the cursory and almost entirely non-evaluative comments spanning two brief paragraphs in the audit report.

This does not augur well for an institutional audit approach.

Alan Nisbett

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