Business worry for assessors

Business and management course providers have emerged as too complacent in the latest quality assessments by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Only one of 13 higher education institutions, Strathclyde University, gained an excellent rating, although the majority claimed excellence in their self-assessments.

Five institutions, Edinburgh, Robert Gordon's, St Andrews and Stirling universities and the Scottish College of Textiles, were rated highly satisfactory, while seven universities, Aberdeen, Abertay Dundee, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot-Watt, Napier and Paisley, were rated satisfactory.

Chris Masters, chairman of SHEFC's quality assessment committee, said the initial claims of excellence were "quite worrying", given that they did not stand up to peer review.

"I think some must actually believe they're excellent, and if it is not recognised that there is room for improvement, then the chance of improvement is not too high."

The overall results were poorer than in the other 12 subject areas published so far, Dr Masters said. "This is of particular concern given the vital role business and management has to play in supporting, and indeed improving, the competitiveness of the Scottish economy."

SHEFC found that while there were good links with professional bodies, links with industry tended to depend on individual academics rather than on departmental strategy.

Jim Donaldson, SHEFC's director of learning and teaching, said student numbers had expanded very rapidly in business and management, rising to 20 per cent of the student body. Staff-student ratios ranged from 1:18 to 1:28, leading to higher teaching and administrative loads, and severe pressure on services such as libraries and computing. The University of Abertay Dundee is renting a local cinema for lectures, while Paisley is refurbishing nearby church buildings.

Excellent ratings are worth money. Strathclyde wins 5 per cent more funded student places in business and management from next session, worth Pounds 133,000 for up to 55 students. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the only institution of four to win an excellent rating for music, has yet to negotiate how to spend its Pounds 80,000. Its student numbers are limited because of the need for one-to-one tuition, and it is not expected to put all its funds into extra student places. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow won highly satisfactory ratings while Napier was rated satisfactory.

* Civil engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University, judged unsatisfactory last year, has been reassessed as satisfactory. But the assessors, who had criticised the course review arrangements, were surprised that validation for a new honours degree was completed a fortnight before students began their honours year, and doubted whether the three-year ordinary degree was an appropriate springboard for honours after only one extra year of study.

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