OU acts on quality concerns

October 14, 2005

The standard of degrees awarded in the name of the Open University by almost 50 of its partner institutions around the world has been called into question.

As The Times Higher went to press, the Quality Assurance Agency was due to publish an audit report on the OU's collaborations with the many private institutions that award its degrees.

The OU is the UK's biggest validating university and it is understood that the QAA report will give a judgment of only "limited confidence" in its ability to safeguard the standard of awards granted through partnerships.

The 47 institutions that have their degrees validated by the OU include the Central School of Speech and Drama, Ruskin College, Oxford, Leeds College of Music, the American Intercontinental University, the European Business School, Regents Business School, New College Durham and the UHI Millennium Institute. Eleven of the 47 are overseas institutions.

In 2003-04, approximately 15,400 students were registered for OU-validated awards at accredited institutions.

It is understood that the report focuses on the activities of the Open University Validation Service (OUVS), which offers a quality assurance and validation service for higher education organisations that do not have degree-awarding powers.

The agency is understood to have concerns that the OU is not able to properly monitor the standards of awards handed out in its name as it is too far removed from the activities of its partners.

The OU called an emergency meeting this week to discuss the forthcoming report. In a letter to all partners, Kate Clark, director of the OUVS, writes: "We will outline the key themes of the draft report and discuss the actions that are being considered in response.

She says that the report "may result" in the OU renegotiating the memoranda of agreement under which partners award degrees.

The OU had an early warning of the QAA's concern about the partnerships. In 2003, the QAA audited the OU's links with a Danish partner and found that "there can only be limited confidence in the university's stewardship of the quality and standards of its validated awards".

This report said that the findings of the audit were "relevant to the university's general arrangements". It said the OU delegated too much responsibility for qualifications awarded in its name and was not sufficiently in control of standard and quality. It called for a "strengthened level of monitoring and support".

A spokesman for the OU said: "We are in discussion with all of the OU's accredited institutions to help us develop a detailed action plan that will address concerns raised in the forthcoming report.

"We will be discussing with our partner institutions how they could be affected by the action plan, but in some cases this will lead to more specific actions required by the QAA."

The report is due to be published later this week.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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