The first results from the English funding council's teaching assessment round using its new methodology reveal a strong preference for marking departments at the upper end of the new point scale.
While 23 areas of provision in the 12 universities visited by the Higher Education Funding Council for England's assessors received the highest accolade of a grade 4, not a single area received the bottom grade of 1.
Under the new methodology departments are no longer classified as "unsatisfactory", "satisfactory" and "excellent". Instead their provision is broken down into six areas and each is marked on a four-point scale.
Geoffrey Alderman, head of academic development and quality assurance at Middlesex and a member of the quality assessment committee at the funding council, said: "At some stage funding will be geared to these point scores, and those that attract scores of 22 are likely to get more funding than those that merely reach the 'quality approved' level of 12."
A spokesman for the funding council said that there were no "immediate plans" to link the teaching assessments to funding. He would not comment on these early results, as they are yet to be published by the funding council.
According to the Assessors' Handbook issued by the funding council, a 4 for a particular area of provision means that: "This aspect makes a full contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives. The aims set by the subject provider are met." A 1 means: "The aims and/or objectives set by the subject provider are not met; there are major shortcomings that must be rectified."
If an institution receives a 1 in any area of provision it will be revisited within a year. If the provision is still stuck at 1 then it will be recorded as unsatisfactory and funding cut - the same procedure as for "unsatisfactory" assessments under the old system.
Professor Alderman said that one reason for the high number of 4s could be that departments are measured against their own mission statements, and have become adept at defining and living up to realistic critieria. "If you say that your aim is to provide one book per 12 students on a particular course, then you cannot fail to live up to such a benchmark. Because we are not marking against a 'gold standard' it is all relative."
In the area of provision entitled "quality assurance and enhancement" not a single institution received a 4. "I am surprised that so many grade 4s were given - but not for quality asssurance," said Professor Alderman.
The other four areas of provision covered are: curriculum design, content and organisation; teaching, learning and assessment; student progression and achievement; and student support and guidance.