Not by the numbers

October 8, 1999

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' reluctance to accept a numerical approach to quality assurance ("Quality plan stalls as QAA faces dissent", THES, September 17) is to be applauded.

Issues of quality are not simplistic, and their reduction to a crude numerical scale will not allow for the sophisticated discussion that is needed for institutions to improve the quality of the education they provide. The danger is that by reducing quality assurance assessments to numerical scales, the whole process of review and evaluation will fall into disrepute.

In our institution, there has always been a strong commitment by all staff to the evaluation and monitoring of the courses we provide. Over the past few years, however, with the introduction of formulaic and checklist-driven assessment procedures used by external monitoring bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Ofsted, our internal procedures have, not surprisingly, responded by following suit.

Reporting procedures no longer allow for verbal argument, but require "sound-bites" to be fitted into assessment-driven categories and boxes. There is an increasing feeling that such approaches do not provide the space for discussion of complex issues.

There is a real danger that frustration with the methods by which assessment decisions are made will lead to a cynical approach to the very process of monitoring and review that lies at the heart of effective quality assurance.

Mick Randall University College Chichester

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