Dozens of QAA jobs ‘at risk’

Consultation on ‘smaller’ watchdog comes after Hefce took quality assessment work in-house

June 16, 2016
Man holding onto capsizing boat
Source: Alamy
At risk: the QAA has not confirmed exactly how many jobs are at risk, but Douglas Blackstock, its chief executive, said that the organisation would be smaller

Dozens of jobs could be axed by the Quality Assurance Agency after its role in monitoring standards in English higher education was significantly reduced.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said it had been told that up to 89 jobs were at risk at the Gloucester-based watchdog, following the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s decision to take in-house a significant portion of the QAA’s work.

The QAA told Times Higher Education that it was “difficult to be specific about exact numbers of redundancies” at this stage, but that leaving vacancies unfilled meant the net total of job losses was expected to be “less than 60”. The QAA has 195 employees, so even the lower figure would put a significant proportion of the agency’s workforce at risk.

Lois Austin, an officer at the PCS, said that the union would be scrutinising the proposals closely. “We will be arguing to save everybody’s job,” she said.

The QAA expects its income to drop by about £4 million, or 26 per cent, in 2016-17.

The agency won four of the six quality assurance tenders that were offered by Hefce, meaning that it will retain responsibility for reviewing providers hoping to enter the higher education sector, concerns investigations and English universities’ international activities.

But its workload will reduce significantly because Hefce has decided to abolish cyclical reviews of English universities’ performance against baseline standards, which are currently undertaken by the QAA, with the funding council planning to monitor quality itself via assurances from governing bodies and evidence from annual institutional data returns.

Douglas Blackstock, the QAA's chief executive, said that managers would be “working closely” with the PCS on a new structure for the agency.

“The higher education sector has been changing in recent years, and QAA must adapt to that change,” Mr Blackstock said. “We will be a smaller but more sustainable organisation: one that is agile, lean and responds efficiently and effectively to the needs of our sector.”

The QAA said it was hopeful that its reforms would allow it to be recommended as English higher education’s designated quality body, a role set to be created under the higher education White Paper.

Roger King, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lincoln, said it was “unsurprising” that the QAA was being forced to cut jobs. 

“The QAA needs support from the sector to achieve the designated status on offer,” Professor King said. “Part of this effort will be directed at demonstrating...that it is efficient and effective and justifies the fees that Universities UK members fork out for it.”

However, Professor King said the QAA could be “quietly satisfied” with the outcome of the White Paper, highlighting that the teaching excellence framework and stronger proposed role for alternative providers may create opportunities for the agency.

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