Quality watchdogs have warned Liverpool University that improvements are necessary before full confidence can be placed in the quality of its courses, writes Phil Baty. They are particularly concerned over its largely unregulated use of students for teaching.
Although Quality Assurance Agency auditors said that the university was "exercising satisfactory stewardship over its academic quality and standards", they listed 14 areas in need of improvement.
The QAA used its strongest sanction, recommending "necessary" improvements, in four areas. A further ten improvements were said to be advisable or desirable.
Just nine areas were singled out for praise.
Most concern was expressed over the university's use of research students for teaching. The QAA team found that appointment procedures for research students were inconsistent and that the university failed to monitor their work properly.
The university was urged to improve training and guidance for all postgraduate research students engaged in teaching and to give "urgent consideration" to moves to "ensure that their assessment activities are moderated by university staff".
Although procedures for appointing academic staff were "appropriate", the QAA said "it was less sure that such procedural consistency existed in relation to the appointment of part-time staff".
Auditors also complained of the lack of a coherent university-wide quality control structure. An "initial policy statement" on quality had not been developed since 1992. This will fuel debates about the QAA's intervention in universities' internal administration.
The agency wants universities to be able to demonstrate a "corporate" responsibility for the quality of the degrees awarded under their name.