The news this week that agreement has been reached in principle for the formation of a single quality assessment organisation is most welcome. Now it should be possible to move forward to design a streamlined system that genuinely helps enhance quality in higher education and that provides the public with the information it has every right to expect.
There will be much to do and much eager scrutiny of the small print on the agreement. Who will own the new agency? Will it be a new statutory agency or shaped from the existing quality council? How will it relate to the professional bodies? And to the funding councils? Also, how will it combine self-assessment with monitoring?
It is greatly in higher education's interest to get the details sorted rapidly. The new arrangements need to be up and running before a general election so that no incoming government is tempted to wade in and take control. The Labour Party has shown worrying signs in the past of such an inclination.
This should therefore be the top priority for the incoming chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, Gareth Roberts. He has a wonderful opportunity. He will himself have the authority of being a newly-elected chairman. The CVCP, which will have to do much of the detailed work, should shortly have a new chief executive. The Higher Education Funding Council for England will also have a new chief executive. The designers of the new system should not be too heavily burdened by entrenched attitudes.
Furthermore, there is a great deal of experience now accumulated on which to draw and a great willingness, thanks to the bruising experience of the past few years, to get it right.