The QAA is hitting the right notes

May 23, 2013

Your leader of 16 May (“Nul points for agency standard”) may have got it right in relation to the UK’s dismal Eurovision performance, but it is wide of the mark concerning the Quality Assurance Agency, both in relation to the Higher Education Policy Institute report on study hours (“Wanted: new yardstick for student workloads (the old one doesn’t cut it)”, 16 May) and the outcome of the University of Southampton’s appeal against its institutional review (“Southampton shows teeth and watchdog backs down”, 16 May).

The 2013 Hepi student experience report certainly raises important issues about study hours, the comparability of workload expectations and accurate information for students - which is why the QAA has been in discussion with Hepi about the implications of the findings, is about to consult on the expectations about the setting of standards (including the use of credit frameworks), and has introduced a formal judgment on the use that institutions make of information as part of quality review.

It is unsurprising to see Roger Brown and Geoffrey Alderman asserting again that the only way to change anything in the quality of UK higher education is to underpin external quality assurance with the threat of legal sanctions (Letters, 16 May). However, it is disappointing to see Times Higher Education advocating the same remedy of central control without any consideration of its impact on the strength that UK higher education gains through its independence - and the independence of the QAA - in safeguarding quality and standards through external peer review.

Far from illustrating a “lack of authority”, or the assertion by Brown that “the QAA is only willing to take on the little people” (one wonders who he has in mind), the introduction of an appeals process on the outcomes of institutional review shows the agency’s determination to safeguard the integrity of peer review and to follow best practice in all its procedures. The point of an independent appeals process is to accept its outcome, whether for or against.

Meaningful reform of quality assurance, far from being a “pipe dream”, has, since 2009, resulted in the introduction of the student voice in all aspects of our work and student members into all review teams; published judgments on the quality of institutions’ information and commendations of good practice in a much wider framework of judgments; effective direct investigation of concerns brought to us by staff and students; the extension of QAA review to private providers and to all college-based higher education, and the complete revision and replacement of the framework of reference points for supporting quality and standards.

Alongside this, we are - unlike our Eurovision entries - competing effectively internationally, with contracts and consultancies delivered in Hong Kong, Macau, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates in the past year alone.

Anthony McClaran
Chief executive
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

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