CNAA era lessons

February 21, 1997

TONY TYSOME reports the view of Geoffrey Alderman that a new standards agency "is bound to eventually become a kind of super Council for National Academic Awards" (THES, February 14).

Having worked both for that body, as chair of a subject board, and for one of the present funding councils as a teaching assessor, there is no doubt in my mind that the CNAA, while far from perfect, was broadly on the right lines.

It was based, inter alia, on the proven method of peer review, on a continuing though changing body of expertise, and on face to face interaction and judgement.

At its best, this encouraged innovation and autonomy as well as ensuring standards.

In contrast the present system constitutes an outmoded and discredited inspectorial approach.

It is of crucial importance that the lessons sometimes painfully learned from the CNAA era, which are consistent with those of the whole history of higher education, should not be lost.

John Radford

Emeritus professor of psychology, University of East London

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