Denial of university status an 'injustice'

November 2, 2001

Controversy has marred the creation of the first new university in almost a decade, with ministers and quality chiefs accused of inconsistency and unfairness.

Last week the Privy Council awarded the coveted title of university to Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, making it the University of Gloucestershire, amid suggestions that it had been given preferential treatment over Bolton Institute.

Geoffrey Alderman, a former assessor for the Quality Assurance Agency, said there had been an "injustice". "Could the government explain why university status was not given to Bolton, and could the QAA explain why it recommended university status for one but not the other?" The award to Gloucester was based on a special audit by the QAA. There are concerns that Gloucester was allowed to appeal against a poor teaching quality assessment (TQA) result.

It had been given 18 out of 24 for its art and design provision - a seal of approval but with serious reservations. In three out of six inspection areas, the provision was given a grade two out of a maximum of four, signalling weaknesses and triggering a demand from the QAA for an action plan.

But an action plan, which would have blocked the university title, was averted when Gloucester appealed against the result. A new inspection was conducted and Gloucester was awarded a more respectable 21 out of 24.

Gloucester principal Dame Janet Trotter insisted that there had been procedural errors with the first visit that invalidated the result and there was no preferential treatment. "There were process issues and the QAA accepted that," she said.

Peter Williams, acting chief executive of the QAA, said: "The process was rigorous and entirely impartial, as was the similar process in respect of Bolton."

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "(Gloucester) has met the rigorous criteria - Bolton unfortunately did not. The QAA and the DFES are ready to work with Bolton to define what is required to satisfy the criteria. Bolton's recent TQAs have been good. Any institution can ask for a TQA to be reviewed - the criteria for achieving the university title is based on a range of criteria which includes teaching quality."

Professor Alderman, vice-president of Touro College in New York, said: "The right to appeal against a TQA score isn't in any QAA procedures document I know of."

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