College fails quality test again

November 21, 2003

A Reading college has been forced to scrap its computing degrees after becoming the first institution to fail a reinspection by higher education quality watchdogs under the current subject review system.

In a damning report, Quality Assurance Agency reviewers say that they still have no confidence in the academic standards of BSc honours computing programmes in the faculty of technology at the Reading College and School of Arts and Design, despite efforts to improve them since the courses were failed by the QAA last year.

The reviewers' verdict has left the college in the unenviable position of becoming only the second to fail a reinspection since teaching-quality assessments began more than a decade ago.

It will now be up to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to decide what action to take in response to the report.

But the college, which is in the process of merging with Thames Valley University to create one of the UK's biggest further and higher education institutions, said it had already decided to scrap the courses, which are validated by the University of Lincoln.

The report says that efforts by the college to address problems of overgenerous marking, identified in the first inspection, have been only partly successful.

Reviewers found that marking by college staff of the most recent student work "did not always follow the university guidelines".

The report adds: "Specifically, first marking still tended to be overgenerous, sometimes significantly so. This was also identified by the moderators at the university, with the result that, in some cases, marks were considerably reduced."

This meant that the moderation process took additional time to complete, with the side-effect of delaying written feedback to students by up to six months.

Students complained of wasting several weeks' work on one assignment because notification of a change in the brief had filtered down to them only after they had started work on it.

The report says: "The subject team regard the delay in giving feedback to students to be an exceptional problem."

The reviewers' assessment of students' work found that while most had acquired an appropriate level of practical and technical skills, they had not achieved "the qualitative abilities expected of final-year honours students". In dissertations, referencing standards were poor, with insufficient citation from journals and periodicals.

Students' assignments generally lacked depth and focused on description rather than analysis. "Overall, the evidence suggests that teaching, although supportive, does not always stretch students sufficiently," the report adds.

The college has declined to comment.

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