Concern over the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in higher education is expressed in a forthcoming Quality Assurance Agency report, which will also reveal serious weaknesses in universities' internal control systems.
The persistent problems will be exposed in an analysis of 541 teaching quality assessment inspections conducted between 1996-98, in 16 subject areas.
Weaknesses emerged despite findings that funding cuts have not substantially damaged the quality of teaching resources.
All the courses were given grades from one (major shortcomings) to four (excellent) in each of six core "aspects of provision". The six aspects inspected were: curriculum design; teaching learning and assessment; student progress and achievement; student support and guidance; learning resources; and quality assurance and enhancement.
Although the 16 subject reports have been delayed and detailed analysis is not yet available, the QAA is concerned about teaching, learning and assessment quality.
In several subject areas, many institutions received grade twos, which warn that "significant improvements could be made", or grade threes, where there is "scope for improvement".
Subjects where teaching and learning weaknesses were identified include drama, dance and cinematics, and in building, where only 19 per cent of providers got top marks for teaching, learning and assessment.
Peter Milton, QAA director of programme review, said that the findings were "cause for concern". "The quality of students' feedback on assessments needs improving," he said.
The weakest provision was universities' quality assurance and enhancement in subjects such as civil engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, history of art, general engineering and others. "The low grades here are a cause for concern," said Mr Milton.
The strongest aspect of provision was student support, which was "very good indeed". "But perhaps the biggest surprise was that there were very few problems with the quality of resources."