Councils near deal

July 23, 1999

Final plans for the new higher education quality assurance regime were in the balance this week as quality chiefs thrashed out details with funding councils, writes Phil Baty.

Quality Assurance Agency chief executive John Randall said that the agency and the funding councils were "getting nearer a resolution" over their differences.

This follows a meeting this week in which the agency sought to secure the funding councils' endorsement of its planned new integrated quality regime, he said.

The funding councils have a statutory responsibility to safeguard standards in higher education and the regime depends on their backing.

Mr Randall would not discuss details of the meeting, but he said that the timetable was still on track.

The funding councils have already signed up to the "broad principles" of the regime, which will introduce cross-sector subject "benchmark standards" and will integrate audit and teaching quality assessment.

But there appears to be conflict over the future method used to assess teaching quality.

It is understood that the QAA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England have rejected plans to continue to use a system of quantifiable numerical grades to assess teaching standards.

They argue that they have been too crude and are unhelpfully aggregated in league tables.

Some believe that a numerical system would make institutions more accountable to parents, students and the government.

A spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said: "I can only repeat our position of a few months ago. The methodology has our broad support, but there was further work to be done."

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