The University of Hull has lost control of postgraduate degrees awarded in its name in South Africa, quality inspectors have found. The university has admitted that its deal to provide MBAs in collaboration with a private South African business school is seriously flawed and has gone "awry".
The highly critical report by the Quality Assurance Agency comes this week as Association of University Teachers' general secretary David Triesman was due to warn at the AUT's annual summer council that the quality of degrees provided through franchised arrangements was "in serious doubt" in many cases.
It also comes as pressure mounts on education secretary David Blunkett to launch an inquiry into The THES's revelations that Derby University enrolled unqualified students on its degree courses in Israel for financial reasons.
The QAA's report into Hull University's franchise with the South African Global School of Business is one of the most critical published. The QAA said: "On the basis of available evidence it is concluded, with regret, that there could not, at the time of the visit, be confidence in the ability of the university to secure the standard of its South African validated MBA."
The collaboration was set up in 1996 after a visit to South Africa by then management school dean Richard Briston, now a senior professor at Hull, whose stewardship of the management school and its overseas operations is currently subject to the scrutiny of the National Audit Office.
Although courses led to the award of a Hull MBA in strategic marketing, the QAA report said that "there appeared to be a fundamental shortage of specialist marketing expertise in relation to the South African MBA in strategic marketing". The university employed just two full-time marketing staff to cover some 500 students on marketing MBAs worldwide.
But the breakdown of quality control systems was more alarming. The QAA said that after the initial validation of the collaborative programme, "little sustained attempt then appears to have been made to ensure that the recommendations of the validation were satisfactorily met".
The QAA listed "a number of significant operational difficulties":
Validation recommendations were not implemented
The approval and moderation of assessments "has not worked as intended or described"
"Embarrassing errors" occurred in appointing external examiners, resulting in no appointment at all for the early (and crucial) period of the relationship
Expansion had been approved in "curious" circumstances
Several students did not have the necessary entry qualifications.
The QAA commended the individual efforts of administrative staff, and said that in cases where student outcomes had appeared to be appropriate this was largely due to the commitment of local tutors and the capabilities of students.
"However, on a number of matters the university has not always been in a position to know with any certainty whether appropriate standards have been maintained or not."
Hull accepted that "mistakes have been made by the university in the management of the programme and that some of these were serious". It also accepted that there were "serious flaws in the design of the programme".
While it believed it had admitted "well-qualified students who have been well taught and appropriately assessed", it had decided to cease operations organised through the model on which the QAA had reported.
It is now considering whether it should operate in South Africa in the future.