Loughborough University has been ordered by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education to improve teaching on its courses given by overseas providers after “serious concerns” about standards were raised by external examiners.
In its latest institutional review, the university was praised by the sector’s quality watchdog for the student experience on its main campus, including the work of its careers service, its postgraduate training programme and its support for students with disabilities.
However, while the QAA said that Loughborough met UK expectations for teaching and upholding academic standards for its own courses, the watchdog raised concerns over its collaborative provision - courses provided through partner higher education institutions.
The QAA found that the “quality of student learning opportunities for collaborative provision requires improvement to meet UK expectations” - the first such recommendation made to an English university since a new review method was introduced in September 2011.
Under the previous audit process, just five English higher education institutions and one Welsh university received a “limited confidence” verdict - the equivalent of “requires improvement” - solely for their collaborative provision.
A separate QAA investigation into the University of Wales in 2011 found serious failings in the institution’s links to overseas education providers, resulting in the closure of all its validation activities.
Loughborough’s collaborative provision is relatively small-scale, with six UK and three overseas partnerships. It educated 1,881 students in 2011-12, 1,550 of whom were from overseas, the report says.
However, the review, which took place in May-June 2012 and was published on 7 February, recommends that the university develop a full action plan to strengthen institutional oversight of collaborative provision, thereby further securing academic standards.
The recommendations come after external examiners at one collaborative partner raised “serious concerns” that were not completely addressed in a timely manner, according to the report.
External examiners also listed some “standards-related concerns, over a number of years, in relation to condoning failures, adjustment of marks, generous marking (and) the use of questions available online”, the report says.
It adds that some information furnished by external providers about courses was also inaccurate and needed to be checked more thoroughly by Loughborough academics.
In one case, the report says, a programme specification was “misleading” because it implied that the imminent validation of the course would lead to the award of an honours engineering degree from Loughborough and a BSc from the partner institution.
The guidelines for establishing a new collaborative partnership “do (not) set out in detail how a process of due diligence would be completed”, the report adds.
Morag Bell, pro vice-chancellor for teaching at Loughborough, welcomed the praise for the university’s good practice but recognised that improvement was needed for overseas courses.
“The university is committed to ensuring that the quality of its provision is of the highest possible standard, and actions are in place to ensure that the small number of recommendations made in the report is being addressed,” she said.
Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the QAA, added: “There were some issues with collaborative provision where the university works with overseas providers, but we will now look at action plans with Loughborough to rectify this situation for the future.”