Joint bodies reach uneasy truce over details of quality reporting framework

October 1, 1999

Disagreement still threatens the future of the new higher education quality assurance framework, with the Quality Assurance Agency agreeing to consult further on its plans to report teaching quality assessments using a system university chiefs fear is crude.

An uneasy truce was reached between the QAA, the funding councils and representatives of vice-chancellors and principals this week. "All parties agreed good progress was being made in developing the new framework," said a joint statement added.

But it said: "It was recognised, however, that there remained concern among universities and colleges about how the results of reviews should be reported and that there was a good deal of uncertainty in the sector about how aspects of the framework would operate in practice."

Disagreement centres on whether judgements about teaching quality should be reported using a narrative or a numerical system. Vice-chancellors and principals have refused to accept a numerical system, claiming it is too crude. The funding councils, understood to be under pressure from ministers keen on performance measures, have favoured a system where simple, summative judgements can be made.

The current plans represent a compromise where judgements about teaching quality would be reported using a four-point, word-based scale, which could easily be converted into numbers. The parties agreed the QAA would publish "full details" of the framework and "consult further on reporting issues" before the end of the month.

There was also consensus on other issues. All three UK funding councils have now endorsed the framework "in principle", although the Scottish funding council has said it wants further details before it will sign up to the plans.

The vice-chancellors and principals gave a "general endorsement" to the "underlying principles". All agree the current separate functions of institutional audit and subject review should be integrated, the intensity of scrutiny should be varied depending on past records and the burden of quality assurance should be lightened.

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