'I told you so,' says Randall

February 14, 2003

Poor teaching standards are going undetected in English universities because vice-chancellors avoided the new teaching inspection regime, the former quality watchdog has warned.

Analysis shows that the proportion of failing departments has leapt from less than 1 per cent in the old UK-wide universal inspection system to almost 5 per cent under the academic review system, which covers Scottish institutions and English further education colleges only.

Former Quality Assurance Agency chief executive John Randall said the findings proved that the new regime was more rigorous and that ministers had been wrong to scrap the system for English universities.

He said that if they were "subjected to this regime, my expectation would be that we would see a higher proportion of departments found wanting".

Mr Randall designed the new system of academic review for all UK universities, but English vice-chancellors convinced ministers it would create too large a burden after years of expensive and time-consuming subject review, which had already proved that there was no problem with standards. The vice-chancellors' victory led Mr Randall to resign from the QAA.

The THES analysis shows that of the 145 academic reviews published so far, seven departments (4.8 per cent) have been judged to be failing. Under the old system of subject review, some 15 departments out of 1,899 failed - just 0.79 per cent.

Mr Randall said that the increased incidence of failure was because inspectors were judging departments against a set of nationally defined minimum standards for the first time, rather than against their own stated aims, which had made failure highly unlikely.

Roger Cook, an academic development adviser at Napier University who analysed the figures, said there was no evidence that if the new system had been implemented in English universities, it would now be detecting more areas of concern.

But he said if the performance of colleges under the two systems was compared, it was possible that "real weaknesses that were previously glossed over" were now being detected.

Peter Williams, chief executive of the QAA, said: "Academic review is looking at different things in a different institutional population from previous review methods. It would be wrong to draw any generalised conclusions.

"Of the 'seven failures', it is worth pointing out that four are split judgements (in which only courses, not the entire department, are judged to be failing) and only three are full no-confidence judgements."

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