Over 80% vetoed blueprint

January 28, 2000

Phil Baty reveals the strength of opposition to QAA plans for teaching quality

Data released by the Quality Assurance Agency reveals that it ignored universities' near-unanimous opposition to plans for reporting on teaching quality and allowed the views of students and employers to prevail.

More than 80 per cent of universities rejected fundamental elements of the final blueprint.

The figures, revealing responses to consultation, will strengthen anger among universities that they have been stampeded into an unacceptable arrangement and that their representative bodies have let them down by agreeing to it.

The QAA reached an agreement with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the Standing Conference of Principals and their Scottish and Welsh counterparts earlier this month.

But it is almost identical to one they rejected last month.

All parties signed up to a plan to replace the teaching quality assessment exercise with a system that will categorise provision as "failing", "approved" or "commendable".

The three categories will be applied to each of three aspects of provision - teaching and learning, use of learning resources and student progression. Each subject area in each university will be categorised, in a single summative judgement, as failing or approved.

Although the universities said three weeks was not long enough for consultation and described the response sheet as inappropriate, the results reveal the scale of opposition.

There was strong support for an alternative that would abandon summative judgements for any aspect of quality and replace them with a narrative style of reporting with "graded action points".

"The majority of the (universities') responses were critical of the agency's proposals and supportive of the proposals for an approach based on graded action points (supported originally by the CVCP, SCOP and Coshep)," the QAA said.

"Some of the responses were strongly opposed to any form of reporting that would include any form of summative judgements."

But the QAA rejected graded action points and the final plans do include summative judgements.

Eighty-three per cent of the 96 institutions that responded said they did not believe, "in broad terms", that the reporting format outlined in the consultation paper - and now adopted almost in its entirety - was adequate. Of those who said the plans were inadequate, 64 per cent said they were "oversimplified".

The sector also registered strong opposition to the format now adopted. Although it was criticised as being deliberately vague, 86 per cent of universities said "no" to the question "Should the standard words 'excellent'/ 'approved'/'not approved' be used to summarise judgements on each aspect of quality?"

Although the format now adopted does use different words (although they are based on the same criteria), the universities' overwhelming rejection of this element appears to have been based on their rejection of the principle of summative judgements, not the exact wording of those judgements.

As the QAA reported: "There was no particular combination of words favoured by any number of respondents."

University responses contrasted sharply with those of employers and regulatory bodies, which gave the consultation document a warm welcome.

As the QAA concluded: "A marked ... difference (of opinion) was most notable between the higher education institutions and the two categories of respondent which included students' groups and employer, professional and statutory bodies.

"The higher education institutions mainly rejected the proposals put forward by the agency and favoured an alternative approach which would use graded action points. The other stakeholder groups broadly welcomed the agency's proposals."


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