POLITICAL scientists have questioned the integrity of Scotland's Teaching Quality Assessment following a last-minute decision not to publish an inspectors' report on the University of St Andrews political science department.
Anthony Black, head of political science at Dundee University, told his senate: "If TQA reports can be summarily withdrawn, it brings into disrepute the whole TQA system." Dundee principal Ian Graham-Bryce resolved to take up the matter with the funding council and to "encourage concerted action" with other institutions to have the document published.
It is the first time the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has withdrawn publication of an inspectors' report. A spokeswoman said that it was withdrawn, after representation from St Andrews, because the courses it offered did not fit comfortably in the "cognate" political science subject area. "The Quality Assessment Committee decided that the specialised international relations courses offered at St Andrews were too specialised to be compared in the same category as political science," she said.
SHEFC conceded that "the problem should have been picked up earlier, before the inspection had been carried out" and confirmed that SHEFC procedures would be "looked at".
In a letter circulated to Scotland's political science heads, Professor Black said that "international relations goes with politics for research assessment exercise purposes".
"What should be assessed was considered very carefully and decided well in advance of the TQA visits, let alone of the drafting of reports," he said. "This situation gives ground for very serious cause for concern about the integrity of the whole process of TQA in politics in Scotland, and casts a shadow, in my view, on all the work which we did for TQA."
Stephen White, head of politics at Glasgow University, said the situation was "odd if not sinister. I'd welcome the issue to be opened up," he said.
St Andrews principal Struther Arnott said: "It is a problem when you try to assemble a peer group in an area of intellectual activity which is not well represented in Scotland. SHEFC, for example, will not assess the classics, which are well represented here, and at Glasgow and Edinburgh, because there are just not enough people to form a jury. SHEFC thought international relations could be handled by politics people, but found there wasn't a proper peer group.
"The lesson I'd take from it is that in such areas, the proper way would be to hitch on to the English assessments."
Although completed to draft stages, St Andrews' political science/international relations TQA report will not be published. SHEFC would not confirm the grade St Andrews was given.