MP raises alarm over Swansea

June 21, 1996

Alan Williams, the MP for Swansea West, has alerted the National Audit Office to the overseas franchise operations of Swansea Institute of Higher Education.

His action this week coincides with the revelation that Brychan Williams, head of the institute's own international office, chaired the external examiner meetings for more than 40 overseas courses even though he is largely responsible for the institute's overseas franchise operation, criticised by the Higher Education Quality Council in a draft audit report (THES, 7 June).

Mr Williams, who saved the institute from closure in the 1970s and is a member of the Public Accounts committee, is concerned that the competition to recruit foreign students could lead to "an erosion of standards". Two years ago he sought reassurance from Swansea about academic standards after a parliamentary delegation reported to him the worries the British Council in Malaysia had about its local marketing.

A report prepared for him by Professor Williams stated that "senior staff from SIHE visit Malaysia at least 12 times a year to chair examination board meetings, to carry out an audit of the colleges offering courses and to conduct staff development programmes".

But documents seen by The THES show that Professor Williams chaired the external examiner board meetings for 28 out of the 30 Malaysia-based courses in subjects as varied as business studies, computer technology, electrical engineering, and accounting and finance. He also chaired the external examiner board meetings for all 13 of the courses offered in Brunei, China and Kenya, including courses assessed in Mandarin and Malay.

He acknowledged that he chaired examination board meetings, but added that five other senior staff have also carried out this role. He did not confirm whether he was expert in the subjects for which he served as external examination board chairman or whether he was fluent in Mandarin and Malay.

He said: "The chair of the examination board meetings is assisted by a team of 30 academic staff from five separate faculties at SIHE, who are involved as moderators. In addition to the moderators from SIHE, 11 independent academic staff fulfil the role of moderator and translator within Malaysia or China for courses taught in Malay or Mandarin."

* The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to visit Southampton Institute of Higher Education next week.

A spokesman said HEFCE will hold discussions with senior management over the institute's overseas franchise operation, which was criticised by the HEQC earlier this month.

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