Degree standards dog lighter inspection

July 30, 1999

Some universities cannot guarantee the standard of their degrees and this will undermine plans for "light-touch" inspections, a quality assurance expert warned this week.

Roger Brown, who was chief executive of the former Higher Education Quality Council, said too many universities "still have some way to go before the institution itself can be satisfied with its own standards".

Dr Brown, now principal of Southampton Institute, said the problem was illustrated by the Quality Assurance Agency's published audit reports on institutions' quality-control systems. He said the first reports regularly raise questions "about the ability of institutions to control what is done in their name".

He added: "These institutional review reports will be one of the things the QAA looks at in determining whether institutions have a light touch. For some institutions there are considerable questions to be addressed before they are allowed a lighter touch."

An analysis by The THES of the QAA's first ten published institutional audits reveals:

At the University of Essex, auditors said that the university could not justify its claims of international excellence, because it had no mechanism for comparing its standards with other institutions. It was criticised for having an "implict rather than explicit" system.

The University of Aberystwyth was severely criticised for allowing degree classifications to be decided in the absence of external examiners.

At the University of Bradford, auditors said: "It is not easy to confirm that an effective system exists ... to enable the institution to satisfy itself about the quality of its educational provision."

At Exeter University, auditors said there were no "shared and common standards".

Geoffrey Alderman, pro vice-chancellor (quality and audit) at Middlesex University, said: "The QAA is obsessed with corporate responsibility for standards but the sector is moving in the opposite direction, delegating more to faculties and departments."

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