Lengthy code gets a rewrite

July 16, 2004

The code of practice detailing how universities should uphold their academic standards spans ten separate volumes, is more than 200 pages long and has, up to now, weighed heavy on the consciences of overburdened university managers.

But the Quality Assurance Agency is setting about diluting and shortening the tome after a damning report by the Government's red-tape watchdog that says it is too long, too inaccessible and too prescriptive.

The QAA this week published a proposed new draft of the first section of the ten-volume Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards - on postgraduate research programmes - after criticism from the Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Task Force and the sector's Better Regulation Review Group.

In a letter to vice-chancellors, Peter Williams, the QAA chief executive, says: "We hope the changes will help to emphasise that the code should not be regarded as a document requiring compliance by institutions, but as one providing a reference to widely agreed approaches to good practice in the relevant areas."

The code covers all areas of university practice from admissions to overseas collaborations.

Concern about the code mounted with the publication of every new volume, each introducing a dozen or more individual quality assurance rules, known as "precepts". These now total about 200.

In July 2002, the Better Regulation Task Force raised concerns about the code. "The QAA told us emphatically that it is not intended to be prescriptive," it says in its report on higher education. "However, the language it uses often sounds prescriptive, with frequent use of the word 'should'.

"We also found it inaccessible and too long. The ten codes published so far reach to almost 200 pages and there are more on the way."

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