Course loses quality stamp

April 28, 2006

Psychology at De Montfort faces loss of accreditation, reports Phil Baty, after claims it inflated teaching numbers.

The British Psychological Society was set to withdraw accreditation from De Montfort University's psychology degree this week amid claims that the university had "inflated" the number of lecturers available to teach the subject.

Documents seen by the The Times Higher show that the university was warned by the BPS last month of "serious concerns" about "a possible overestimate of staffing" levels in the psychology department.

The BPS said it would withdraw its endorsement unless De Montfort provided evidence by April that there was at least one lecturer for every 20 students.

A university spokesman said there was "no question about the accuracy of information supplied to the BPS" as it had "been subject to the faculty's and university's rigorous quality processes".

Yet an e-mail to staff from Tony Cassidy, head of the psychology department, last week said that the university had failed to provide the required information to the BPS.

In the e-mail - leaked to The Times Higher - he also claimed staffing levels had been "inflated". He predicted that the university would pre-empt the decision by the BPS, by announcing - as it did this week - that it had voluntarily withdrawn from accreditation.

De Montfort released a statement saying it had decided to withdraw "after careful consideration" but that the move "is in no way related to any aspects of programme quality".

The withdrawal will be seen as another blow for Gillian Grant, dean of the faculty of health and life sciences. The faculty is also responsible for the pharmacy school, which is on "probation" with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society after The Times Higher revealed that failing students had been upgraded by up to 14 per cent.

Graduates of BPS-approved courses gain automatic entry to postgraduate courses, leading to qualification as practising psychologists. The BPS previously withdrew accreditation for DMU's degree for 2003-04 for undisclosed reasons.

In a letter to Professor Grant in March this year, Wilfred Foxe, a BPS quality assurance officer, said: "I must report that the graduate qualifications accreditation committee has serious concerns about the resourcing of your provision and has resolved that, unless DMU can demonstrate compliance with the benchmark threshold for staffing, the accreditation of the BSc in Human Psychology will be withdrawn."

He listed four members of staff whose input appeared to be less than that claimed by the university, including two graduate teaching assistants reported to have contributed double the amount of teaching hours they were believed to teach.

Dr Foxe said that even without this "possible overestimate of staffing" the university was failing to meet the required staff to student ratio of one to 20.

In his e-mail, Professor Cassidy said DMU had left the BPS "with no choice but to withdraw" accreditation, but said it would withdraw in advance "based on some notion that it will look better".

De Montfort said: "It was felt that, overall, the university and its students would be better served by withdrawing from accreditation as this will provide a greater degree of flexibility to support the faculty's shared learning strategy and enable greater interfaculty collaboration."

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