Letter: Quality refrain creates discord

January 18, 2002

Let us extend Peter Williams's analogy between a university department and an orchestra ("Define 'quality', then we'll talk 'assurance'", THES , January 11).

Imagine how the Quality Assurance Agency would implement an Arts Council contract to assure the quality of orchestras: orchestras would have to publish a listening and performing strategy and document rehearsal practices and instrument acquisition. Their programmes would have to emerge from a fully documented internal process, with all but tiny changes validated by a report from a senior member of another orchestra. Jargon-ridden programme notes would explain that even if audiences thought they had come for the music, this was a mere vehicle for developing "generic" listening skills. None of this would assure or improve quality, let alone foster innovation.

If academics want the pleasures of self-employment with a regular salary, as Williams claims, public-service monitoring bodies want something more: the pleasures of a clerical pulpit together with decent pay and the assurance that they will not have to practise what they preach - no accountability, transparency or cost-benefit analysis. Above all, no reflective practice.

The challenge of quality in higher education is to get beyond box-ticking, newspeak, formal compliance and bureaucratic overload. The QAA is not going to take us there.

Tim Reuter

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