The tone of Susan Lapworth’s article about how the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s plans for quality assessment have been misunderstood is so patronising that it almost beggars belief (“Our plans for quality assessment have been misunderstood”, 12 April).
I want to ask Lapworth: what does she think those of us with responsibility for quality do with our time? Frankly, anyone with responsibility for quality who isn’t undertaking the activities described isn’t doing the job.
Having done those activities professionally for six years, preparation for higher education review is pretty straightforward. The process could have been less burdensome, no doubt, although as Gordon McKenzie has pointed out, it would have been easy enough to ask the Quality Assurance Agency to create a less burdensome process (which it proposed previously but which Hefce opposed). Certainly I don’t recognise the “substantial time and cost saving” described.
The main difference seems to be that instead of having our processes reviewed once every six years by a group of trained professionals, we have them reviewed once every five years by people with limited understanding of quality in higher education. As it happens, my institution works hard to assure its board about the management of quality and standards, but it’s not easy with a group of highly intelligent and engaged governors who have no background in this area. Giving them greater responsibility is not going to make this task easier. We won’t reduce the amount of academic staff time currently devoted to quality management activities, because we only ask them to do what’s necessary. We have never asked colleagues to do anything “because the QAA wants it”; if the University of Westford has, maybe it should have reviewed its quality processes some years ago.
The quality management duties of academic staff all relate to robust standards, and the enhancement of the quality of the student experience. Nothing else. But even so, it’s fantastic that we’re going to be given an “opportunity to fully exercise institutional autonomy”. The financial sector enjoyed that opportunity too; just ask Lehman Brothers. How that is in the interest of students or the public…well, you tell me.