Failed deals give UK bad name

January 28, 2000

British higher education is not only having problems with the South African authorities, it is also subject to criticism from the Quality Assurance Agency reveal, writes Phil Baty.

The agency will next week publish its audit reports on five British institutions operating in South Africa.

It will draw attention to earlier problems when De Montfort University had to abandon its original partnership as "things went badly wrong" and Napier University was abandoned by its partner after a mutual "breakdown of trust".

The QAA auditors have declined to make an overall judgement about Napier's South African venture, as at the time of their visit the university was seeking a new formal partnership.

Napier is trying to set up a new arrangement so that students can continue studies. "However, it appeared that there were some important inconsistencies in the information being provided to (us)," the QAA warned.

Students had been told about a new partnership when no agreement had been signed. "Such misinformation might give rise to confusion regarding expectations and responsibilities," the QAA said.

Warwick University, Buckinghamshire Chilterns, Leeds Metropolitan and De Montfort were given the all-clear by the QAA, although earlier damaging problems were identified at De Montfort.

The QAA said that De Montfort's decision in 1994 to forge a partnership with the South African Centre for Management Studies was "a serious mistake". "It is to the university's credit that when it recognised that events were going badly wrong it took the brave step to discontinue its partnership and to invest substantial resources in South Africa in order to rescue students."

The QAA said De Montfort's new arrangement, after setting up a subsidiary, De Montfort University South Africa, to provide an MBA, "appears sound".

Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College has been told that "there is confidence that standards are being maintained" in most of its provision. But some MSc courses "may, at present, be less secure".

Chris Haslam, assistant director of institutional review at the QAA, said: "The team found that standards were satisfactory, although there were a couple of instances that were causes for concern."

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