Developments in quality assurance

May 15, 1998

Universities are breaking ranks as they face threats to their autonomy in theshape of new quality and teaching regimes.

July 1997: Lord Dearing's national committee on higher education publishes report.

On teaching it recommends the establishment of a professional Institute for Learning and Teaching by universities' representative bodies in consultation with funding bodies. It would accredit training programmes for lecturers and confer on them associate membership, membership and fellowship. New academics would be expected to become associate members and established academics to develop their skills.

On quality it recommends a compulsory code of practice and minimum standards for degree programmes linked directly to public funding. The commitment to standards should be underpinned by a national framework of qualifications, overseen by a new Quality Assurance Agency with the power to recommend the withdrawal of funding. The QAA had three years to get a national framework and minimum standards into place. The information would be used by a pool of licensed external examiners, who would validate programmes.

Dearing also recommends that the teaching quality assessments undertaken by the higher education funding councils be wound up by 2001 and subject reviews undertaken by the QAA instead. The Higher Education Quality Council, set up by the CVCP to undertake audits of institutions, was already being wound up.

February 1998: The government issues its response to Dearing. On teaching its long-term aim is that all teachers in higher education should have a professional qualification and the ILT is seen as a key element in this.

On quality the government does not agree with Dearing that compliance with QAA rules should be a condition of funding, but does endorse the recommendation for a new qualifications framework. The QAA's early priorities will include working with subject groups to define standards and consulting on plans for approved examiners, it says.

March: The QAA issues its consultation paper. Chief executive John Randall describes it as "building on the original Dearing proposals" and says the consultation period will end on May . The CVCP sets up a planning group to consult about the institute.

April: A consultation document on the institute is published by the planning group, with a deadline for responses of May 22. The Higher Education Funding Council for England decides to reward excellence in teaching with money.

May: The CVCP issues a "statement of intent" as a precursor of its response to the QAA document.

The Russell group of research universities and the '94 group, headed by Stewart Sutherland, issue their own response to the QAA. The '94 group, headed by Ivor Crewe, responds to the ILT consultation document.

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