Mr Randall points out the 'fallible'

September 7, 2001

Former quality supremo John Randall has listed a catalogue of weaknesses threatening standards at some of Britain's top universities.

When he resigned as chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency last month, Mr Randall attacked "the assumption by some institutions that their reputation and status is unassailable".

"We are all fallible," he said in an attack on the Russell Group of 19 top universities, which he largely blamed for undermining his planned quality assurance regime and forcing the "light-touch" approach, which he felt made his position untenable.

Asked to justify his claims, Mr Randall this week singled out the University of Leeds as an example of a leading university that had failed to demonstrate the highest standards of student assessment and quality control during teaching quality assessments. But, he said, many of the so-called elite universities had fallen foul of the quality inspectors at some time.

Leeds failed a 1997 inspection of teaching in its media studies department when inspectors discovered a "serious breach" of exam regulations on a broadcasting degree course. The courses were approved at a re-inspection a year later.

The QAA also identified weaknesses with "quality management and enhancement" in reports on civil engineering and anatomy at Leeds, and criticised the university last year for weaknesses in "teaching, learning and assessment" in classics.

A 1998 QAAreport on medicine at the university identified weaknesses in curriculum design and content and in quality management and enhancement. Both areas were given a grade two out of four, signalling need for significant improvement, and medicine was given a score of 18 out of 24, well below average in the field.

A spokesman for Leeds said: "Medicine has a new General Medical Council-approved curriculum and quality management procedures; communication studies received an 'excellent' 22 on re-inspection; a learning and teaching action plan is well under way in classics... Only classics has scored less than an 'excellent' 22 in the last three years - an achievement of which any university in the land would be proud."

Another elite institution that has fallen foul of teaching quality inspectors is the University of Manchester, which has a number of poor overall assessment scores, including 16 out of 24 for Russian, 18 for civil engineering and 19 in both French and Italian.

Liverpool University failed an inspection of its nursing courses in 1999. University College London received a grade two out of four for its quality management in pharmacology and scored badly in languages. Bristol received a two for quality management in dentistry and Nottingham has received scores of 16, 17 and 19 in languages.

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