Government ignores MPs on standards reform

October 29, 2009

The Government has rejected most of a cross-party group of MPs' recommendations on higher education.

The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee was heavily critical of the sector in its report Students and Universities, published in August, saying that standards were not being properly safeguarded.

In its response, the Government said it was "disappointed that the committee has not reflected in its report the very strong and positive evidence about the UK higher education sector that was given during the inquiry".

David Lammy, Higher Education Minister, said: "We have a hard-won and well-deserved international reputation for our higher education system, and there are clear procedures in place to make sure that quality and standards are high."

The committee's report highlighted an increase in the proportion of first- and upper-second-class degrees awarded in recent years and suggested that the Higher Education Funding Council for England should commission research on degree classification since 1994.

It also recommended that the Quality Assurance Agency be re-established as a Quality and Standards Agency, with a remit to report annually on higher education standards to Parliament and to review universities' degree-awarding powers every decade. The new body would "define the characteristics of each class of honours degree" and ensure that each university's standards were derived from these.

The Government said research on degree classification would not be appropriate or cost effective at the current time. Studies had already been carried out to inform a pilot study for a more detailed record of students' achievements, it added. The Government agreed that the QAA needed to adopt a more "public-facing role", but said this could be done without re-establishing the watchdog as a different body. Reviewing degree-awarding powers every ten years would create a large overhead for universities and the QAA, it added.

However, the Government did agree that under a new quality assurance system to be introduced in 2011-12, the watchdog would be asked to inquire into assessment, student support and teaching.

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