Franchise row rages at Swansea

June 14, 1996

A fierce battle over the standard of overseas franchise courses is being fought between senior managers and quality assurance officials at Swansea Institute of Higher Education.

Senior managers at the institute, which last year tried to become a fully- fledged university college of Wales, are seeking to revise recently introduced stringent quality assurance measures commended by the Higher Education Quality Council and designed to safeguard the standard of overseas courses.

Last week they presented the institute's governors with broad restructuring plans which included a proposal to move key quality assurance officials, who were also commended by the HEQC, and who have been trying to raise the standards of the overseas programme.

In a draft audit report, the HEQC criticised the institute for allowing its overseas collaborative provision "to develop separately" from the UK-based quality assurance procedures (THES, June 7). It therefore "welcomed" the decision to transfer responsibility for quality assurance of all overseas courses from the overseas development committee to the academic standards committee.

But confidential minutes, seen by The THES, suggest that senior managers want to revoke the new quality controls in order to help expand the overseas franchise operations.

Hywel Rees, the vice principal, told a meeting that the quality control transfer arrangements were "for HE work and took no account of work which fell below HE level". This would leave the majority of overseas quality assurance work with the international office - contrary to what the HEQC had been led to believe.

The HEQC report says: "The audit team understood that, shortly before the audit visit, a decision had been taken to transfer responsibility for the quality assurance of all institute provision, however and wherever delivered, to the academic standards committee, a decision welcomed by the team."

Professor Rees then reminded the meeting "that while quality issues were critical, the institute had to work within the cost-effective framework bearing in mind the history of partnerships which extended long before the onset of HEQC requirements".

He added that there was "a need to be flexible and speedy in institutional responses" because competition from UK and international institutions "suggested that the marketing could not afford a rigid bureaucratic model that would not be understood by host countries".

In defiance of the HEQC, the meeting concluded "that the quality unit should focus more on domestic programmes and allow the international office to focus on overseas programmes". This effectively returns control of overseas quality assurance to Brychan Williams, the dean of the international office, who was responsible for this work before the introduction of the transfer arrangements last December.

This action has prompted opposition from several key quality assurance officials responsible since December for monitoring standards of overseas courses. But the proposal by senior managers to move them did not win the support of governors last week.

Professor Rees refused to comment on the minutes. But he insisted that "our quality assurance procedures are the same for overseas courses as for domestic courses". He also refused to comment on the restructuring plans, other than to say that they were prompted by the need to make "efficiency gains".

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