Standards deviation

April 28, 2016

Whether or not the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s new system for quality assessment will be less burdensome is very much up in the air at present (“Our plans for quality assessment have been misunderstood”, 12 April). The proposals lack detail and universities will need to continue to undertake much of the Quality Assurance Agency’s work regardless (the need to double mark work, operate appeals processes and monitor collaborative agreements is not going away).

What does concern me is the attempt to play down the impact on institutional autonomy. One thing that the QAA has consistently done is maintain comparable standards at threshold level, while permitting institutions to otherwise set standards in the context of their own awards. What you need to do, as a minimum, to pass a degree is the same across the sector, but some institutions can set higher hurdles. These Hefce proposals represent an enormous shift away from that, and for Hefce to suggest otherwise is either disingenuous or worryingly ignorant.

The proposals are to calibrate marking across institutions, set standardised degree algorithms and introduce centralised training for external examiners. These changes are fundamental, cut to the core of academic standards and have huge implications for how universities operate as autonomous institutions in terms of both academic regulations and student registration processes.

Joe Johnson

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