Full toolkit for setting standards to be reviewed

March 4, 2010

The "obscure and misleading" terminology used in the setting of degree standards is to be reviewed for the first time in a decade.

The Quality Assurance Agency has launched a consultation on its "academic infrastructure" - the tools used to set degree standards.

At present, it said, even some academics failed to recognise the term used to describe the set of references that give universities a shared starting point for setting, explaining and assuring course quality.

The academic infrastructure, which includes qualification frameworks, subject-benchmark statements, programme specifications and the QAA code of practice, was set up in the 1990s to bolster public confidence in higher education.

But a discussion paper published by the QAA last week says that while academics are aware of these individual components, they "do not always recognise the term 'academic infrastructure'", which is seen as "obscure and misleading".

It suggests that the system as a whole is clearly understood only by quality assurance specialists.

Although the individual elements of the infrastructure have been reviewed regularly over the past decade, this is the first time all the tools have been evaluated together.

The paper says that programme specifications, which give information about what students can expect from courses, have generated the most divided views.

One weakness is that it is difficult to produce specifications that are useful for universities' internal quality assurance processes while providing information in a form that is accessible to students.

Concerns have also been raised about the variability in length, coverage and language used in subject-benchmark statements, which set out broad expectations about degree standards. Some think they are "too generalised", while others believe they are "too specific".

The QAA is inviting views on the components that make up the academic infrastructure and the system as a whole. The discussion paper is available on the QAA website. The deadline for responses is 7 May.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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