English universities plan charter to tackle ‘low-quality’ courses

Move will include guidance around when to close, merge or reform courses, but Universities UK points out difficulty of assessing courses’ value

November 16, 2020
quality control food factory
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English universities are establishing a charter to help identify and improve potentially low-value or low-quality courses.

The development of the charter, which is being led by a Universities UK (UUK) advisory group, will focus on publishing a statement of intent, agreed by universities, and highlighting best practice where universities are already identifying low-value or low-quality courses and taking rapid action to address these issues. UUK will also publish guidance, which universities will be expected to follow and will include recommendations for when to close, merge or reform courses.

UUK said the statement of intent would demonstrate the sector’s commitment to consistency and transparency in processes to tackle low-value courses, while examples of best practice will include the use of metrics, such as graduate career satisfaction or employment outcomes several years after graduation.

In the longer term, universities will also consider options for external assurance or independent review to strengthen processes as part of an ongoing charter, it added.

UUK said universities already have robust processes in place to uphold quality and standards, but assessing whether a course is high or low value was more challenging.

The UK government pledged to crack down on substandard university programmes in its 2019 election manifesto. Graduate earnings have already become a metric against which universities are judged via their inclusion in the teaching excellence framework.

Meanwhile, this year’s introduction of a student number cap, aimed at stabilising England’s admissions system amid the pandemic, allowed institutions to bid for additional places on the condition that they had a continuation rate of 90 per cent or higher, or high-skilled employment or further study rate of at least 75 per cent.

Julia Buckingham, president of UUK and chair of the advisory group, said the “overwhelming majority of courses are high quality and offer good value for students, but we want to address concerns that some could deliver more for students, taxpayers and employers”.

“The development of this charter will help universities take consistent and more transparent approaches in tackling low-quality or low-value courses,” she said.

“The public needs full confidence in the value and quality of a UK university degree, and the charter will demonstrate universities’ commitment to constant improvement.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Just want to get this straight: poor graduate earnings are the fault of universities, and not the job market and a weak economy? Cool.
"graduate career satisfaction" Wow, just wow. Soon the lifetime happiness of any graduate will be the responsibility of lecturers and departments (per KPIs) not that of the graduates themselves and their future life choices. Julia Buckingham and her cabal of sycophantic establishment stooges at UUK are a disgrace; so very predictable. No principles, values (other than of the monetary kind) and no backbone the lot of them.
Perhaps the government would like to tackle the issue of low starting (and continuing) salaries in certain sectors? My child has a First in a biological subject from a prestigious university and well over a year of good-quality, relevant volunteering. The entry-level jobs and internships in the market are paying £18 - 20K. Whose fault is this?

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