Derby in trouble again

April 7, 2000

An internal audit has uncovered major failings at another of Derby University's overseas businesses.

The university's academic audit committee has described as "unacceptable" and "inadequate" Derby's management and supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate courses delivered in partnership with a Dutch college, The Hogeschool, in Breda. In a report obtained by The THES dated January 2000, auditors said the failings jeopardised the integrity of the university's honours degree.

The report comes as the Quality Assurance Agency is responding to a request by education secretary David Blunkett to examine The THES's reports about Derby's operations with Inter College in Israel.

Derby runs a franchise operation at Breda offering postgraduate degrees and, until recently, "dual awards" for undergraduates in collaboration with the school. The audit of those operations found:

* One Derby University postgraduate programme "had been allowed to run for a significant period at Breda prior to validation" by Derby and before Derby was running the programme. The audit report said: "The university must be concerned at such a failure in its oversight of the collaborative arrangements, and in its conduct of its responsibility for its awards"

* A Breda student handbook included an MA course starting in November 1999, although "the validation of this programme was not scheduled to take effect until January 2000"

* The collaboration lacked formal, signed agreement between the two institutions. "This state of affairs is in breach of the university's (quality) procedures and ... calls for immediate rectification"

* Postgraduate programmes' "proposed assessments had not always been referred for consideration to the external examiner as required by the procedures"

* For the discontinued undergraduate Derby/Hogeschool dual awards, senior managers at Derby believed a formal agreement "did not exist". One was subsequently produced, but it "made no specific reference to the dual awards"

* "The objective of significant staff exchange (for the dual awards) had not been realised"

* Irregularities in the dual awards included "the entirely informal nature of the role and responsibilities of the dual-award coordinator; the lack of coordination of marking systems; the improper submission of Breda results through the Derby coordinator rather than to the school administration; and the undue reliance on trust as against clearly understood procedures"

* One cohort of BA students did not have their final results approved until a year after completion of their course, "because the classification rationale had still to be determined".

Of the postgraduate franchise, the audit team noted that the university was "committed to development" and that there were "clear merits of collaboration, reflected in the positive comments of the impressive students". But it called for major improvements. For the dual awards, a "general failure in oversight of responsibilities occurred".

A Derby spokesperson said: "The University of Derby has established internal quality assurance procedures for appraising its overseas operations and it routinely carries out rigorous audits as a result. This Academic Audit Committee report has been produced as part of this standard quality assurance programme. It has still to be ratified as the report is currently in draft form and is awaiting further comment on factual accuracy. The auditors were asked to review our programmes in Breda from 1995 with the aim of learning lessons from historical operational weaknesses, some of which had already been rectified. The small, pilot undergraduate programme that is highlighted in the report was discontinued last year. While the report identifies where our academic provision can be strengthened further, it does not indicate that our academic standards have been compromised."

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him

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