Letter: Review is good for you (1)

April 6, 2001

After the barrage of criticisms of the Quality Assurance Agency ("QAA faces boycott by 66,000 lecturers", Analysis, Leader, Letters, Laurie Taylor, THES, March 30), an alternative perspective needs to be aired.

I write as a QAA subject reviewer (in politics) and as head of a department that has just received one visit (in politics) and is getting ready for another (in history).

Yes, preparing for a QAA visit is stressful, time-consuming and costs money. But the benefits are substantial.

Yes, there is a degree of stage-managing for review week, but strategies that may have started as preparation for the review become embedded as processes of continuous improvement.

And nobody can deny that the quality of the student experience has gone up in reviewed departments. I have also seen no evidence to justify assertions that subject reviewers are incompetent or rottweilers that savage perfectly good provision. At one level I welcome any "lighter touch", but we should resist any idea that the job is done and that the future of subject review will be only to assess the continuous improvement of departments that have not achieved the highest scores.

Much of what has been said about QAA subject review is based on a misperception as to what it is about. Institutions are judged on their own claims, not comparatively. Six aspects of provision are assessed, not just the way research feeds into the curriculum. In fact, the process might be seen as a slightly more level playing field than the research assessment exercise.

Some "new" university departments can achieve the highest grades just as some "old" university departments can. A much lighter touch may deny new universities a way of proving their excellence. We often moan about how QAA scores and other performance indicators end up as football-style league tables. Now, however, I can't help feeling the ball has been taken away.

David Sadler De Montfort University

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