Delay spares QAA a review

January 18, 2002

The Cabinet Office inquiry into university bureaucracy is likely to come too late to affect the shape of the Quality Assurance Agency, writes Phil Baty.

A senior QAA source said that a delay by the Better Regulation Task Force, which is not expected to report until July, meant it was unlikely to affect the new quality assurance regime.

By July, after almost ten years of consultation, the QAA will have fully agreed a new regime with the Higher Education Funding Council for England and vice-chancellors, under the close supervision of ministers.

The task force review was set up last year and has its first meeting this month. David Triesman, former general secretary of the Association of University Teachers and a task force member, said it would carry out a fundamental examination of the QAA, and would even consider its abolition.

The task force has promised to study administrative burdens on higher education institutions.

This week a spokeswoman said it was unlikely to replicate completed reviews. "Part of the reason for the delay is to avoid duplication as there are so many separate reports around... If the group feels that another body has already done the work needed in an area, it will probably focus its attention elsewhere."

This raises the prospect of the group largely ignoring lecturers' key source of frustration - the quality assurance regime.

The QAA source said: "The idea of doing a review of higher education was badly timed anyway - not only was the QAA redevelopment well under way when it was first proposed, but the PA Consulting report (for funding chiefs, on the burden of accountability) had covered similar ground, various working groups had been set up and the Department for Education and Skills was about to announce its review of higher education. It looked like overkill."

AUT spokesman Andrew Pakes said: "We are still calling for the task force to take a thorough, 360-degree review of bureaucracy in the sector. Anything less than a full review will lack the clout necessary to force through change or win the confidence of those working in the sector."

The four-member task group is chaired by Matti Alderson, director of regulation consultancy FireHorses.

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