Critics force quality rethink

August 30, 1996

Plans for a new single quality agency and system for higher education have been revamped in response to criticisms from the sector.

Fresh proposals contained in a report to be published in early September pave the way for a more flexible and efficient quality regime, it was claimed this week.

They were drawn up to address concerns that the original scheme suggested by the joint planning group for a single quality agency would prove too expensive to run.

The planning group's first report, published in April, had failed to produce a blueprint for a system that fully integrated quality assessment and audit in a way which was likely to save institutions money rather than costing more, according to Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.

The new proposals, which will be discussed at the CVCP's annual meeting at Sheffield University on September 17-19, amount to a workable solution to the problem, Ms Warwick claimed.

"Although it was not the intention, we had not developed our thoughts enough on the process of quality assurance when we produced the first report. There was a lot of concern expressed during consultation about the bureaucracy and workload of what was being proposed, and it is this that I believe we have now successfully addressed," she said.

Secrecy surrounds details of the new plans following earlier leaks of internal reports, which are believed to have angered the planning group's chairman, Sir William Kerr Fraser.

The group has also been criticised by some academics for holding its discussions behind closed doors.

"We agreed right from the start that there was pressure from various parts of the sector to keep our discussions confidential. That was due to the sensitive nature of bringing together two organisations with two different ways of looking at quality issues. There are also peoples' jobs at stake," Ms Warwick explained.

A report from a working party set up by the planning group, leaked in June, suggested the group's terms of reference had made it "extremely difficult" to see how reductions in the demands of quality assurance on institutions could be achieved.

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