A redrawn standards regime for Welsh universities that retains the requirement for independent cyclical review must not lead to further fragmentation of the UK-wide quality system, according to a leading vice-chancellor.
The quality assessment framework proposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales incorporates many of the changes already announced by its sister body in England, including monitoring of standards via data returns, vouching by governing bodies and incorporation of quality into funding council assurance visits.
But, unlike the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s plan to abolish the requirement for regular reviews against baseline standards, currently conducted by the Quality Assurance Agency, Hefcw says that these should continue in Wales.
Reviews would have to be conducted at least every six years and the results would be a compulsory part of the fee and access plans that Welsh universities are required to submit to Hefcw.
Colin Riordan (pictured), the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, said that the prospect of fragmentation of quality assessment – and the potential decline in the comparability of standards for students from elsewhere in the UK and overseas – must be guarded against.
“We want to be part of a UK-wide system and we would rather that there wasn’t fragmentation into different methods of quality assurance, and it’s a question of how that might be achieved under the proposals we have before us now,” Professor Riordan said.
“There is a danger that we drift away from a UK-wide system into a more atomised one, and we don’t want that done on a geographical basis.”
The Hefcw document also confirms that Wales intends to participate in the first phase of the teaching excellence framework, but a decision is yet to be taken on later stages.
Professor Riordan added that there was “definitely a potential risk” that the combination of the English proposals with the continued requirement for independent review could increase the burden of regulation on institutions, but he argued that this could be avoided if the new system were implemented “smartly and sensibly”.
A Hefcw spokeswoman said that the proposals reflected the views expressed in a consultation and that the continued requirement for external assurance “will help to maintain Welsh universities’ reputation internationally”.