Britain's reputation for academic excellence was again shaken this week when quality chiefs criticised two universities' overseas partnership arrangements.
The Quality Assurance Agency has told Bournemouth University that it must "consider, as a matter of urgency, whether its quality arrangements for each of its overseas partnerships are sufficiently robust" to properly safeguard academic standards.
The QAA has also warned Middlesex University that without improved checks, "it will be difficult to place complete confidence in (the university's) quality arrangements for its partnership links".
In the course of an audit of Bournemouth's activities in Cyprus, the QAA discovered serious problems with its relationship with the College of Tourism and Hotel Management, in Nicosia. The college delivers a Bournemouth degree through a franchise arrangement.
"The university is not fully in control of the partnership, a matter of which it had remained unaware until after the beginning of the audit," the QAA report says.
It emerged during the audit that the CTHM was offering its own BA in hospitality and management. The BA is made up of the six units of study that formed the degree approved by Bournemouth and two additional units set locally.
The agency uncovered "discrepancies and omissions in the CTHM prospectus", which Bournemouth staff were unaware of. The university was told to put in place a system to check the accuracy of promotion material "as a matter of urgent necessity".
"The university's quality arrangements have proved insufficiently robust to identify actual problems, anticipate potential problems and to enhance the quality of the student experience," the QAA says.
A Bournemouth spokeswoman said: "The university has implemented a number of significant changes to address the issues raised."
She said that the university was confident that the improvements "will ensure that Bournemouth University students, wherever they study, will continue to receive an excellent education".
The QAA criticised one aspect of Middlesex University's partnership arrangements between its School of Computing Science and the Regional Information Technology Institute in Cairo. The institute provides a Middlesex part-time MSc through a franchise deal.
Although the QAA said that arrangements to safeguard standards were sound and that regulations and procedures "appear to be scrupulously and willingly followed by all concerned", the agency added that there were problems with quality assurance systems.
The university relies too much on trust and confidence and places too much reliance on the schools - in this case computing - that are engaged directly in the partnership, the QAA says. This leaves Middlesex unable to "check for itself what is being done in its name by its schools".
Middlesex said it was pleased with its audit, which it said was "very positive".
A spokeswoman for Middlesex said: "Despite... strong evidence that quality and standards were being maintained, the university has responded in a responsible manner to the audit report and introduced a greater element of central scrutiny."