Colleges need to 'raise their game'

November 11, 2005

Phil Baty reports on the fourth institution to receive a 'limited confidence' rating

Quality watchdogs have cast doubt on plans to deliver more courses through further education colleges, after confirming that 16 per cent of colleges failed inspections of their academic standards in the year 2004-05.

On the eve of a national conference on the future of delivering traditionally university-based qualifications such as higher national diplomas and degrees in colleges of further education, the Quality Assurance Agency confirmed that 6 out of 37 colleges inspected last year failed.

Six colleges were given a vote of "no confidence" with regard to academic standards and, of these, four were also given a "failing" judgment for the quality of their students' learning opportunities.

"There is lots of good practice in colleges, and they are strong with student support and with widening access," said Stephen Jackson, director of reviews at the QAA. "But problems we have been identifying for some years persist."

Mr Jackson, who was due to deliver a speech on the sector's progress in delivering quality higher education over the past two years at the conference, added: "Problems to do with the level of resources and the availability of staff for higher education courses are still here, and there are issues with assessment - especially the basic understanding of the way assessment is conducted in higher education."

Susan Hayday, curriculum and higher education manager at the Association of Colleges, said that there were clear benefits to delivering higher education through colleges, such as widening participation and making courses more accessible. She added that there was some excellent practice.

"But we can't get away from the fact that some colleges have to raise their game," she added.

Ms Hayday said that colleges' relatively inferior financial resources could be affecting the inspectors' perceptions and she agreed that colleges could be taking time to adjust to the nature of review and the evidence that the reviewers were looking for.

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