QAA loses its way - claim

October 7, 2010

"Whatever next?" That was the startled response of Nancy Harbinger, our Deputy Director of Student Experience, to the new auditing plans unveiled by the Quality Assurance Agency.

Under the proposals, the QAA reviews would "look at direct evidence from students" in order to make judgements about academic quality, standards and outcomes.

Ms Harbinger described this as "an alarming development". She told The Poppletonian that over the years universities had grown to respect the QAA's "total lack of interest in such student-related matters as class size, level of feedback, decreases in contact hours and increasing reliance on inexperienced and underpaid teachers".

She added that in the past universities had also very much appreciated the manner in which the QAA had audited quality by the tried and trusted technique of simply approving the favourable accounts universities had provided of their own processes for protecting standards.

She cautioned that unless the QAA seriously revised its current intentions, there was a very real danger that it could dent its long-established reputation for sustained ineffectiveness.

The pathway not taken

"I'm worried about the entire concept of the pathway." These were the fighting words from Brian Bryan, our Deputy Head of Ref Strategy, in his recent address to the More and More Research is Needed Committee.

Although he recognised that the research councils had carefully deliberated before selecting "pathways to impact" as a criterion for deciding the value of grant applications, he felt that the term "pathways" had "unfortunate connotations of relative directness" and thereby ignored the more circuitous manner in which research may have an impact.

It was for this reason that he favoured replacing the word with the term "ring road". He accepted that the alternative suggestion of "back passage" might better capture the contingent nature of impact, but felt it was "fraught with ambiguities".

Thought for the Week

(contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)

As some of you will know, our regular yoga teacher, Shiva Jenkins, is currently undergoing surgery to release him from the lotus position. In his absence, here's an amusing quote to remind you that there are limits to the benefits of regular exercise:

"My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She's 97 today and we don't know where the hell she is."

Brighton is right on

Five academics from our Department of Media and Cultural Studies have joined forces with the tutors in the humanities at the University of Brighton who, despite enjoying "first place" in the National Student Survey, described the initiative as "a statistically risible exercise in neoliberal populism" in a letter to Times Higher Education.

Professor Gordon Lapping, whose own department came bottom in the same survey, told our reporter Keith Ponting (30) that the move was "a gesture of solidarity. When those who came last in the survey find themselves in complete agreement with those who came first, then it is clear that there is something fundamentally flawed about the entire exercise." He added that "in any case, we would have come much higher if only Dr Quintock had not forgotten to remind students that those who failed to complete the survey positively were undermining the value of their own degrees".

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