Letter: Tripped on red tape (1)

May 4, 2001

No one will be surprised that the Quality Assurance Agency finds itself in the dock, except perhaps the QAA (Letters, THES , April 20). I am not sure, however, that the right charge is on the charge sheet.

The charge ought to be that the QAA has neglected to inspect the very thing it knows most about - quality systems in higher education. What the QAA should be looking at is whether institutions have quality under control or whether quality controls the institutions.

It should be talking to academic staff and asking them whether the system works, whether it is burdensome and whether it delivers the goods. It should be asking institutions whether they really need all the rules they have invented for what, after all, are fairly simple processes.

But there is another, more serious charge. While the research assessment exercise has boosted the esteem and rewards of research, the QAA's effect on teaching has been the reverse. Teaching is associated with bureaucracy, inspection and regulation.

All over the country academics are rewriting their degree programmes, not out of any intellectual conviction but merely to meet the QAA's prescription for outcome-led education.

If the QAA is in conflict with the academic community, it has only itself to blame. It needs to get to grips with its core function and be supportive, offering guidance and advice, not setting up elaborate systems of surveillance.

Martin Coyle
School of English, Communication and Philosophy
Cardiff University

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