Bristol overseas ventures under fire

April 30, 2004

Quality watchdogs have criticised one of Britain's most prestigious universities, Bristol, for failing to exercise proper control over standards on courses run in collaboration with overseas partners, writes Phil Baty.

In a report on Bristol's partnership with the Italian branch of the international music therapy charity, MusicSpace, the Quality Assurance Agency said the university had taken inadequate action to deal with a number of "manifest weaknesses" with the arrangements.

It also said that its account to the quality auditors of the relationship was "inaccurate and incomplete".

The QAA report concludes that there are insufficient grounds for confidence in the soundness of the university's management of the partnership, which allows the charity in Bologna to provide a Bristol University postgraduate diploma in music therapy.

Although the audit looked exclusively at the relatively small MusicSpace partnership, the QAA has extrapolated its findings to the university's collaborations as a whole.

It says: "The audit found evidence to suggest that the way this collaborative partnership had been overlooked was symptomatic of a more general complacency with regard to the (QAA's) code of practice (on) collaborative provision and to the full management responsibilities relating to education partnerships."

While the course was launched in late 1995, Bristol had failed to apply its own guidelines for such collaborations established in 1994, the QAA report says.

It also says that the university had taken action that was "lacking or deficient" in a number of areas. There were problems with its arrangements for formally approving and monitoring the partnership and over the management of publicity material.

"It was not possible to see how the university could claim that it has effective control over the accuracy of all public information, publicity and promotional activity," the report says.

A Bristol spokesman said: "The university accepts the findings and notes that, in the QAA's judgement, the programme is academically successful.

Criticisms relate to quality assurance systems and procedures.

"The report notes that 'the audit team supported the confidence expressed by the university in the capacity of MusicSpace Italy to manage the programme on its behalf and to provide good quality student support'."

He said that many of the issues raised in the report had been identified by the university, adding that action had been taken.

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