Excellent bonanza for 'old' universities

November 3, 1995

Old universities dominate the "excellent" ratings in the latest round of teaching assessments published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, writes Claire Sanders.

In the seven subject overviews published this week, only a fifth of the "excellent" grades went to departments in former polytechnics or colleges of HE.

The correlation between excellence in teaching and the top grade of 5 in research continued. In the previous round of eight subject overviews published in May this year, there were 30 such correlations, this time round there are 32.

The subject areas covered in the latest overviews were social policy and administration, environmental studies, geography, English, anthropology, geology and music. They were assessed under HEFCE's old methodology, whereby each department is classified as excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. This has now been abandoned in favour of grading areas of provision within a department on a scale of one to four.

Overall, only five departments were considered unsatisfactory. The definition of this is: "Education is not of an acceptable quality: there are serious shortcomings which need to be addressed."

These departments will be revisited by funding council assessors within a year from the original visit, and if provision has not improved they could face funding cuts. None of the unsatisfactory departments were in an old university, except for postgraduate provision in English at the University of Exeter.

In anthropology, a subject taught largely in old universities, nearly 80 per cent of departments were excellent. Geology came second, with 47 per cent of its provision classified as excellent, music came third with 46 per cent deemed excellent and environmental studies came last with just 21 per cent. It was the only subject to have less than 32 per cent of provision in the excellent category.

In the overview report for environmental studies, the assessors concluded: "The subject area has been characterised by a lack of cross-institutional dialogue about what might constitute a core curriculum, at least until recently."

On anthropology they wrote: "It is concentrated in relatively few centres of excellence and is taught by enthusiastic and dedicated staff to highly motivated students."

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