Agency curtails working group

August 13, 1999

The Quality Assurance Agency has "stood down" its working group on student complaints, leaving angry members complaining that the final draft of its code of practice remains flawed, writes Phil Baty.

The QAA itself has admitted that the code of practice on

student complaints and appeals as it stands "may not move the complaints and appeals agenda along quite as fast as some might wish".

Peter Williams, the QAA's director of institutional review, has cancelled the final meeting of the working group - despite a failure to win consensus among the group over the plans for a

long-awaited code, and in the face of opposition from some of its

members.

"In not even daring to convene another meeting and address what is fast becoming a farce, the QAA has bailed out," said group member and National Postgraduate Committee representative, Don Staniford.

He told The THES this week: "In view of the lack of consensus on the working group, there is every need for a meeting. The working group is mere window dressing and a blatant attempt to muzzle criticism."

When the most recent draft of the code was presented to the ten-strong group last month, members were told that if they wanted to hold the last scheduled group meeting, against the QAA's stated wishes, they should reply to the QAA "by return".

Two of the ten informed the QAA that they believed the meeting should take place, as further work was necessary.

It is understood that several other members - including the representatives from the National Union of Students, the National Postgraduate Committee and the Association of University Teachers - were unable to express their views in time.

Student members of the group argue that the code does not offer enough provision for the external and independent review of student complaints.

Other members are understood to be unsure about the conflicting roles of external reviewers and university visitors, already the legal arbitrators of disputes in old universities.

Mr Williams, as chair of the group and a QAA director, said although he had cancelled the meeting, he would "bear in mind" any further comments members may want to make.

He told The THES this week that the code is "on course" and "will represent an important improvement on current practice and should also offer scope for further development and enhancement in due course".

If approved by the QAA board next month, the code will be published for consultation.

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