Right to remain silent

May 21, 2015

Recently there have been two articles in Times Higher Education about the Quality Assurance Agency keeping details of review appeals secret (“QAA’s lips are sealed about review’s critical findings in second case”, News, 14 May; “QAA review appeal to stay secret”, News, 7 May).

When the QAA’s offices were refurbished, walls were retained only where absolutely necessary, and where possible those left were made of glass. It was a symbolic move that represented a wider principle. The QAA is a transparent and collaborative organisation. We publish an annual report on our activity, as well as our directors’ report and accounts, plus board papers and minutes. Although we do not come under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we voluntarily operate in the spirit of the act.

The right to appeal is an important principle of the QAA’s system of external review. Our judgements can have significant impact on providers. In the past academic year, of the 25 providers with unsatisfactory judgements that have reached the appeal deadline, six have appealed, with two of these being wholly or partially successful. It is important, therefore, that judgements are not considered to be final until after that right to appeal has been exercised.

Our board, composed of independent members and representatives of the higher education sector, took the decision that from January 2014, only those confirmed judgements should be made public, and not those that were successfully appealed. This policy change means that we cannot publish the appeal findings from the University of Southampton and the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance.

We want to encourage providers to use our appeals process if they dispute our findings, safe in the knowledge that if they are successful, they will not suffer undeserved reputational damage from the earlier, overturned findings. Few judgements are appealed, even fewer successfully, but our judgements have impact and with that comes responsibility. It is responsible to combine a commitment to transparency wherever possible with a confidential approach to appeals. Some walls need to be retained.

Richard Jarman
Director of public engagement
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

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