A Catholic college’s bid to become a university has been put on hold after the sector’s quality watchdog raised concerns over academic standards on a hypnosis course.
St Mary’s University College, Twickenham was expected to be among the specialist colleges recommended for university title by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week. But the former teacher-training college, which won degree-awarding powers in 2006, was left out of what the universities and science minister David Willetts called “the single biggest creation of universities since 1992”.
Minutes of a governors’ meeting in March indicate the college’s confidence that it would achieve the status, with principal Philip Esler noting that “outline plans were under way for celebrations” in May 2013. But a St Mary’s spokeswoman said BIS has “confirmed that our application has been postponed until the new year in order to implement the Quality Assurance Agency action plan in relation to our clinical hypnosis collaborative partnership, which has now been discontinued”.
This follows a critical report in August by the QAA on a clinical hypnosis course run by a private company, Brief Strategic Therapy and Clinical Hypnosis (BST) Foundation, and validated by St Mary’s.
The QAA found that teachers were inadequately qualified, reading lists were out of date and the external examination was “not fit for purpose”, putting academic standards at risk. One student on the honours degree course was also listed as a teacher and an examiner.
The QAA said St Mary’s should draw up an action plan “to address the findings of QAA’s investigation and confirm how it intends to put the recommendations into practice”.
The watchdog ordered St Mary’s, which has since closed the hypnosis course, to review its validation procedures to ensure that all courses provided by external companies are of the same academic standard as those offered by the college itself.
Problems with the part-time course were first revealed by Times Higher Education after it was contacted by two students who said that complaints about poor teaching and academic standards had not been dealt with by BST or St Mary’s.
St Mary’s has now offered either to repay students’ tuition fees paid to BST or to allow them to take a different course free of charge.
The QAA decision means that St Mary’s is not, for now, set to join Newman University College, Birmingham and Leeds Trinity University College as the UK’s first Catholic universities since the Reformation.
BIS has recommended that the 10 university colleges be approved for university title by the Privy Council, which is ultimately responsible for granting university status.