DFEE's role in Derby

August 25, 2000

The Quality Assurance Agency report on allegations against University of Derby operations in Israel raises issues the sector needs to address urgently ("Minister says UK tarred by Derby affair", THES, August 11).

One relates to the role of the Department for Education and Employment, which, according to the report, received documents from lecturers' union Natfhe and referred the allegations contained therein to the QAA.

The QAA subsequently determined that "there was a prima facie case for further investigation". I am curious to know on what authority the QAA decided that it had the power to come to any judgement on what it had received. What the DFEE should have done was to have forwarded the Natfhe material exclusively to Derby, thus demonstrating the government's respect for the university's autonomy.

Derby should have investigated the complaints itself or, if for some reason that was impossible or impolitic, the complaints should have been referred to an independent body, not the QAA, which is clearly (as the affair demonstrates) a government agency.

Another issue relates to the QAA's conclusions. Of the four allegations investigated, only one (that no examination scripts had been translated or moderated by Derby staff) was found to have any substance. Even here there were extenuating circumstances, since sample original examination scripts were moderated by the two bilingual external examiners. In summary, the QAA has given the Derby-Inter College link a pretty clean bill of health. But it had already done so in its 1998 audit report, written by three experienced auditors who had, at public expense, travelled to Israel as well as to Derby.

What has taken place at the instigation of the DFEE is a serious waste of public money. The National Audit Office should investigate.

Geoffrey Alderman

Former pro vice-chancellor for quality and standards

Middlesex University

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