Face-to-face admission

July 3, 1998

YOU report Nick Tate, QCA chief executive, as asserting that "... we have these standards (for NVQs) and there is no reason why they should not be used to build other qualifications as well".

There are many reasons why such standards should not be used for degrees. There are serious conceptual, methodological and empirical flaws in the hypothesis that education and training based on such standards are superior.

The use of the term in the NVQ system is based on the assumption that standards (of performance) are objectively identifiable, consistent across an occupational domain, and stable over time. Such assumptions have been shown to be completely without foundation.

The methodology used for NVQ standards (functional analysis) lacks intellectual coherence and empirical justification. The sociological and psychological assumptions, on which functional analysis is based, are from social science some three decades ago. Yet despite numerous critiques, its protagonists have refused to engage in an intellectual debate.

The early response was "give it a chance to prove itself". Well, the system has been in place for over a decade and the record fails to show clear benefits for all the resources and effort. NVQs have succeeded only where alternative qualifications have been eradicated and where no strong stakeholder interests can challenge the claims made for them.

For universities to submit themselves and their students to such a system, without proper intellectual scrutiny and debate, would be a betrayal of their fundamental role. If Mr Tate is so certain of the validity of the standards approach, perhaps he can use some of the Pounds 5 million to promote and support open and honest debate?

Len Holmes Principal lecturer employment studies and HRM University of North London

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