'Flawed' quality agency plan angers historians

July 26, 1996

History dons have condemned plans for a single higher education quality agency as "fundamentally flawed". They object to what they see as a "command and control" approach to quality assurance by the planning group setting up the agency.

And they have criticised the proposed constitution and appointment procedures for its board.

The protests come from the History at the Universities Defence Group, an independent committee. In a letter to Diana Warwick, joint secretary of the planning group and chief executive of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, the group says proposals to give funding bodies and institutions an equal number of representatives on the board will exclude "any members likely to have both high academic and scholarly standing together with direct and continuing involvement in university teaching and research".

Procedures for appointment to the board were "such as to make it essentially a self-perpetuating body", the group adds.

The letter also raises concerns about attempts to incorporate external definitions of appropriate standards of attainment into the proposed quality regime. The planning group's report said it expected institutions and subject communities to reach collective agreement on standards and how they should be described.

The history group says: "It is possible to detect here both a philosophy of command and control and a clear, if still implicit, wish on the part of the joint planning group for common or centrally-determined university syllabuses."

The group adds that it has "serious intellectual and professional reservations concerning any centrally-directed attempt to devise common syllabuses", and is "firmly of the view that any definition of standards or common approaches must be firmly rooted in the subject itself".

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