Colleges in the dark over Wales validation changes

Widespread uncertainty among partner colleges after abrupt policy shift. David Matthews reports

October 20, 2011

A number of colleges that rely on the University of Wales to validate their courses appear to have been left in the dark over changes abruptly introduced earlier this month.

The university announced on 4 October that it would only validate courses it "designed and fully controlled". But when contacted by Times Higher Education, just 25 of the 130 or so institutions responded with details of their strategy to cope with the changes.

Of these, many said they needed more details of how the decision would affect them.

Among them was the Hereford College of Arts, which said it was "deeply regrettable" that the university had announced its plans to withdraw validation services through the media and "without informing the college in advance".

Helmut Halker, dean of the Swiss Textile College, said the institution's management was "confused" and wanted to know how future programmes would be validated. And Christopher Lazarski, associate dean at Lazarski University, Warsaw, said that as he had not heard from the university directly, it was "difficult to comment on press rumours".

Under the old model, institutions approached the University of Wales to validate their own courses.

The policy shift followed a BBC investigation, which alleged that staff at Rayat London College, which provides courses validated by the University of Wales, had offered to help foreign students cheat their way to qualifications as part of a visa scam. Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, is now investigating whether there are grounds for "further direct investigation" of the University of Wales.

In 2009-10, the validation system brought the university more than £10 million, almost two-thirds of its income, a significant rise on the 2008-09 total of about £7 million.

Several respondents to THE said that the validation change could hit their student numbers or reputation. City Unity College in Greece said that it faces "substantial" damage. It had been required by the Greek Ministry of Education to put up €500,000 (£496,500) as a "guarantee of good practice" and this could now be lost, it added.

Other colleges said they had already been considering alternatives to the University of Wales when the changes were announced. Aldwyn Cooper, principal of Regent's College in London, said it had been moving its validation to The Open University "for reasons of quality, consistency and ease of oversight".

The University of Wales said it had begun contacting the institutions affected on 3 October to advise them of the validation changes, adding that they would be made within an agreed timescale and in accordance with the legal agreements between the university and the colleges. Further discussions would be held in the coming months, it said.

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