EMPLOYERS would play a key role in setting the compulsory "threshold" standards for degrees, recommended in Sir Ron Dearing's report, under Quality Assurance Agency plans.
The QAA has strongly endorsed Dearing's main recommendations on quality, but has added its own spin, expressing a commitment to "involve employment interests as well as institutions" in the controversial standard-setting teams.
Dearing envisaged a greater role for the agency than originally conceived. For example, it could recommend withdrawing funds if institutions did not meet its minimum standards or conform to a new code of practice.
He said the QAA should set up small "expert teams" of academics on standards. John Randall, chief executive of the new QAA, said this week that the standard-setting would be done through "pooling the sovereignty of higher education institutions, not by taking the sovereignty away. Dearing made it clear that the standards would be developed by academics in their own subject areas, and the QAA will facilitate that".
Dearing made no specific recommendation to bring employers into standard setting, but Mr Randall thinks involving them is not controversial. Inviting broad-based organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors would be inappropriate, but groups such as the Royal Society of Chemists would be welcome.
More detailed plans would be ready in time for the Government's October deadline, he said.
The QAA also endorsed Dearing's proposals for a national framework of higher education qualifications, a national pool of external examiners and tighter controls on course franchising and degree-awarding powers. The agency would meet the three-year deadline to implement changes.