Damning report on university revealed

August 12, 2005

Middlesex University has been struggling with "overworked and demoralised staff", high student dropout rates and poor course quality at its School of Computing Science, according to material released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The university was this week ordered by the independent information watchdog to release details of a confidential consultant's review of its computing school after it twice refused to release the report to The Times Higher .

A summary of the report, now released by the university, reveals a catalogue of concerns that include a failure of courses to keep pace with technical developments in computing, dictatorial managers and the recruitment of students unsuited to courses.

Middlesex had declined to discuss the contents of the report, which was submitted late last year, and refused to release it after a request under the Freedom of Information Act. But the university released a summary of the report after a ruling by the Information Commissioner.

"The review reported that much excellent work was being carried out in the school," the summary says. "However, there were difficulties. There was both a high staff-to-student ratio in some areas of provision and a student retention problem, with the outcome that staff were overworked and demoralised.

"Both the school and the university were perceived as being too top-down in their approach.

"Programme development was not keeping pace with requirements of the marketplace and the professoriate needed to become more involved in teaching. Quality assurance needed to be improved in some areas."

The report, by education consultant Gordon Bull, recommends that "staff needed to be valued more" and that the professorial and executive staff should "participate in teaching".

Another document that Middlesex has published on the new Teaching Quality Information website (www.tqi.ac.uk) reveals that an external examiner on the computing school's business information systems degree voiced concerns last year about the academic abilities of some students.

A summary of the 2004 report by Tony Solomonides, an external examiner from the University of the West of England, says: "At the lower end of achievement, it seems to me... that some very weak students are allowed to continue beyond what other institutions in my experience would consider a cut-off point."

It also warns: "There is evidence that language problems affect some students' ability to gain maximum advantage from their education."

The university said this week that it did not necessarily agree with all of Professor Bull's conclusions, which were reported in November 2004, and added that there had been a number of "important positive developments" since. The school was recently united on a single campus. New programmes are planned and a new dean is due to join shortly. The director of curriculum, learning and quality, suspended after the Bull report, has been replaced.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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