College pays for drop in quality

July 14, 2000

Stockport College has had funds withdrawn as a sanction against falling standards and quality controls on three courses, writes Phil Baty.

A report from the Quality Assurance Agency this week reveals serious breaches of exam board regulations.

The agency has concluded that the quality of education is unsatisfactory in Higher National Diploma courses in building, civil engineering and electrical engineering. This week's report, a reassessment of the courses following earlier problems, makes Stockport the only higher education provider to fail both a QAA subject review and a follow-up visit.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England said: "Withdrawal of funding is intended to to ensure that the college does not recruit any more students onto these programmes." Funds can be pulled only as a last resort after persistent failure.

The council is discussing interim arrangements with the college to "best secure the interests of current students".

The assessors found evidence that quality assurance mechanisms, particularly those governing assessment practices and the operation of examination boards, were "not working at an acceptable level" in the electrical engineering and the civil engineering courses.

They found discrepancies between marks recorded on exam papers and those attached to exam board minutes. They said that there had been no resit exam boards in 1996-97 or 1997-98 and there was evidence that July 1999 resit papers "were not moderated".

There was "a similar lack of clarity" in the procedures for the conduct of HND civil engineering exam boards, they said.

The assessors said that some students' commitment to their studies was "doubtful", leading to a high number of failures. There were examples of failing students having been allowed to resit "simplified" versions of the original exam papers, cases where exam boards had failed to moderate resits and of external examiners not sampling assessment material.

The failings identified this week relate to quality assurance that was given the all-clear in the original assessment in May 1998. The aspect of provision originally deemed to be failing - student progression and achievement - has been approved this time.

The college said that "improvements" to examination procedures recommended in the report "have been adopted by the college in line with its own improvement programme and have led to better practice".

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