TQA just wasn't worth the pain 1

February 27, 2004

Peter Williams (Soapbox, February 20) argues that, despite diminishing returns, great expense and highly effective institutional game-playing, the teaching quality assurance system has "helped to develop a sturdy 'quality culture'" that nevertheless provided "the necessary evidence that there wasn't much wrong with quality in English higher education".

So, after a hugely expensive and disruptive decade, we know that there was nothing seriously wrong in the first place. Great.

Why was this evidence necessary? Was it for the good of university education? Or was it because Conservative and Labour political bosses, along with government bureaucrats increasingly bamboozled with targets and the audit culture, wanted a stick with which to browbeat universities so that they could give the electorate the feeling that they were "doing something" about a non-existent problem?

In the meantime, the quality assurance system has disrupted university life, alienated academics, misled students and the public and instigated a red-herring paperwork-led approach to teaching that is undermining the very intellectual standards it was meant to support.

The excuse? To ensure that Britain has world-class universities? Compared with whom? US universities are often seen as the benchmark, but they have no such systems. Academic freedom and the right to teach your students as you see fit are more deeply entrenched there than here. That is one major reason why I am leaving the UK to teach at Rutgers University in the US.

The subject review system has diverted British universities from providing the sort of quality that they have always provided in the past when academics were trusted and left alone to get on with the job.

Philip G. Cerny
Manchester University

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