Joint degrees and validation agreements with overseas partners have become a huge growth area for British universities in recent years. But the Higher Education Funding Council for England signalled in its consultation on the risk-based quality assurance regime, published yesterday, that it wants closer monitoring of standards in collaborative provision with partners at home and abroad.
The proposals “respond to concerns that varying forms of collaborative provision may place academic quality and standards at greater risk”, Hefce says in the consultation document.
The move follows the scandal over the University of Wales’ lucrative validation agreements with partners in the UK and around the world.
Hefce proposes that additional modules could be added to the institutional reviews undertaken by the Quality Assurance Agency – every six years at present – in order to look closely at collaborative provision.
“Examples of such modules would be where degree-awarding institutions validate programmes of study leading to their awards in partner organisations in the UK and internationally,” Hefce says, adding: “Other modules might focus on distance learning programmes, branch campuses or joint ventures.”
Hefce says that depending on the outcome of the consultation, these modules could replace the QAA’s collaborative provision audit.
The document continues: “Collaborative provision, by virtue of its more complex nature…can present more challenges to the maintenance of academic standards and quality than other forms of higher education provision.”
The modules would take place at the same time as institutional reviews.
But Hefce adds that “where there is a significant change, such as growth, in a provider’s collaborative provision, but no formal review is due for a number of years, one or more collaborative provision modules might be regarded as a trigger by the external panel for an out-of-cycle QAA engagement”.