Delegates seen but not heard

September 24, 2015

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is consulting on proposals to change the system of quality assessment (“Hefce role under review as Johnson seeks ‘cheap and simple’ regulation”, News, 17 September). The proposals would be the biggest changes to the external quality framework for at least 20 years.

The deadline for submission of responses was 18 September; and at least one of the sector representative bodies was not planning on submitting until then, to permit a final discussion at a meeting on 17 September.

At Hefce’s final consultation event on 7 September, Hefce’s chief executive Madeleine Atkins introduced the proposals and noted how important it was that the council not only listened to but also really heard what the sector had to say in response.

Imagine my astonishment, then, to find that Professor Atkins had published a blog discussing the outcomes of this consultation on 16 September, two days before this deadline (“Quality assessment must be more than a tick-box process”).

Professor Atkins notes that at the consultation events they had “heard broad support for the principles being proposed”. Now it may surprise Professor Atkins to learn this, but many of the delegates were quality professionals; and we know each other. And a general summary might be that yes, Hefce did hear some support, but at most events there was considerable criticism of many of the proposals, and we do not recognise the spin that is being put on these discussions.

It is incomprehensible that, well before the consultation deadline, the chief executive of Hefce sees fit to announce the outcome. These proposals would signal a complete change to the framework for quality assessment in England. They are also highly contentious. One might have thought that listening carefully before announcing the outcome would be at least prudent; and really hearing what people had to say a minimum requirement.

Jon Renyard
University secretary and director for student experience
Arts University Bournemouth

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