Anglo-Indian MSc savaged by QAA

Audit identifies string of failures in handling of Cranfield/ICRI masters, writes Rebecca Attwood

July 9, 2009

A university has admitted mistakes in its handling of a masters course offered in partnership with a private institution in India following criticism by the Quality Assurance Agency.

A string of failures are documented in a QAA audit of Cranfield University's full-time MSc programme in clinical research, delivered at Cranfield and on four campuses of the Institute of Clinical Research, India (ICRI).

Since the partnership was formed in 2006, Cranfield has had to address "fundamental problems", the report states. These include the failure to: clarify to ICRI staff the standards that it expected at the masters level and its rules on plagiarism; identify plagiarism sufficiently early in students' courses; and identify "discrepancies" in assessment approaches.

A special review of the partnership by Cranfield in 2007 made 24 recommendations and revealed an "extremely adverse" student-to-staff ratio of 60:1 for project supervision.

In 2008, Cranfield's board of examiners accepted marks by ICRI staff for the taught element of the course when it was clear they were "not marking to the expected standards".

No checks were made for plagiarism in the coursework submitted by students in India, and failure to attain normal pass marks in theses was condoned, it says.

Within a few weeks of students being notified of their results, Cranfield received more than 600 emails, which it treated as informal complaints, the audit says. Decisions later had to be revisited.

The QAA report, one of ten examining UK collaborations with Indian universities, identifies 16 areas for improvement.

It says that the risks for the course - high student numbers, a complex and heavy assessment regime and a need for greater staff resources - were identified early on.

However, Cranfield "appeared not to take these risks seriously enough and, during the first year of operation of the course, did very little to prevent a series of problems accumulating", it adds.

Results for the second cohort of students and staffing levels showed improvement, and Cranfield has now adopted "a systematic approach" for dealing with problems, the audit found.

However, it concludes: "The findings suggest that the course is still some way from reaching stability; at this stage, the evidence does not provide sufficient basis for confidence in Cranfield's management of quality and standards in relation to the large and complex overseas collaboration with ICRI."

Cranfield said it was disappointed with the report's conclusion, but welcomed its recognition of the action taken to establish a more robust partnership.

It said it "recognises that mistakes have been made with the ICRI partnership... but many lessons have been learnt through the process".

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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