Agency is 'stifling' degree baby at birth

November 8, 2002

Quality watchdogs are in danger of stifling the development of the foundation degree with too many regulations, the qualification's original architect has warned, writes Tony Tysome.

David Robertson, head of policy development at Liverpool John Moores University, said that the Quality Assurance Agency must tread a fine line between assuring quality and preventing innovation in foundation degrees. If it does not, it could "kill off" the qualification.

But Professor Robertson said the QAA was right to keep a watchful eye on colleges delivering foundation degrees that had poor quality inspection records.

Such colleges should be encouraged to think twice before entering into partnerships or consortia to offer the qualification, he said.

Professor Robertson's warning follows the publication of the QAA's final draft benchmark defining the distinctive characteristics of the foundation degree.

He said he agreed with the QAA's definitions in its benchmark statement. It says that work-based learning, accessibility, clear progression routes to higher levels, employer involvement and flexibility are key features of the qualification.

But although the QAA said its benchmark was not meant to be prescriptive, Professor Robertson feared institutions could feel intimidated by it.

He said: "The QAA's requirement to define quality signals to institutions that they should not take risks in an environment where they need to do so in order to be innovative."

The foundation degree is expected to play a key role in achieving the government's 50 per cent participation target for higher education.

Insiders said Professor Robertson's call for lower tuition fees for foundation degrees to boost their popularity had been accepted by the government.

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