Former TVU chief warns of Trojan horse

July 23, 1999

Universities may shun the Quality Assurance Agency for fear that a call for help could lead to the sort of damning report produced about Thames Valley University, according to former vice-chancellor Mike Fitzgerald.

Dr Fitzgerald, who this week broke his eight-month silence over the events that led to his resignation as TVU's vice-chancellor, accused the QAA of using TVU for its own ends. He believes he and TVU were attacked unfairly because the QAA wanted to show the sector that it meant business on standards.

This week Dr Fitzgerald said: "This is now an issue for the sector. I turned to the QAA for help. I called them in. The danger is that if TVU was used by the QAA for its own ends, then I doubt that any other universities and colleges will want to turn to the QAA for help. It is up to the sector to decide what they make of it."

Norman Taylor, chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals, echoed this concern. He declined to comment on the specific allegations. But he said that if the QAA is given the power to remove a university's degree awarding powers, as is expected to be announced next month, institutions would inevitably be more "hesitant" about inviting the QAA to help resolve problems.

Dr Fitzgerald's resignation last November coincided with the publication of a damning QAA report on the universities. Dr Fitzgerald said he felt he had to resign, not least because, he said, the QAA had briefed ministers on the basis of its draft report, which the university had not seen and which contained factual errors.

A QAA spokeswoman said: "The agency stands by the judgements it made. The failings were failings of management and it was quite proper that the vice-chancellor was held accountable. In seeking to reopen the issue, Dr Fitzgerald is doing nothing to help the university's recovery or to enhance his own reputation."

The university has since restructured, reducing its seven schools to four faculties organised along more traditional lines. This has involved significant lecturer redundancies. Managers will bear the brunt of a new wave of job losses.

TVU is concentrating on recruitment. Applications are down by 17 per cent on last year, including a 26 per cent fall in higher national diploma applications.

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