Overseas degree standard warning

University disappointed at QAA's judgement of 'limited confidence'. Rebecca Attwood reports

March 17, 2011

An audit team has declared "limited confidence" in the ability of Liverpool John Moores University to manage the academic standards of degrees delivered with overseas partners.

Although the Quality Assurance Agency said it had confidence in courses taught at the university, an institutional audit report advises the institution to be more careful about courses delivered partially overseas.

It says Liverpool John Moores may have given too much credit to an advanced diploma offered by an overseas partner in Malaysia that allowed students to progress to a full honours degree by completing a 14-week course at the UK university.

At the time of the audit, not all external examiners had visited the partner institution, meaning they did not know the standards achieved by the partner's students, it adds.

However, in an unusual step, the judgement given in the QAA report - dated November 2009 but published only recently - is qualified.

The "limited confidence" verdict "relates to...just one aspect of one element of the university's overseas collaborative provision", it says.

In a statement, the university says it is "extremely disappointed" with the judgement.

"This is a rather technical, narrow matter relating to mapping against the framework for higher education qualifications," it says, adding that the university "is clear that it has assured itself of the level and standards of these awards".

The statement also complains about the QAA's process of "hybrid audit" - inspections that examine both home and collaborative provision.

"The process was not well managed," it says, adding that the awards concerned "represent less than 0.25 per cent of all the university's collaborative awards".

The QAA said it had "full confidence" in the judgements produced via its hybrid audit process.

Meanwhile, the QAA has announced a voluntary severance scheme for its own staff.

The step follows a period of restructuring, during which there have been one compulsory and five voluntary redundancies.

A source told Times Higher Education that some assistant directors - responsible for managing institutional audits - had been told their contracts may not be renewed this summer, and that there was a debate within the QAA's Public and Commercial Services Union branch about whether it was being "sufficiently vigorous" in opposing job losses.

A QAA spokeswoman said: "On taking over as chief executive, Anthony McClaran made it clear that changes would be made to the way we operate...We want to engage more fully with the public and with students, to undertake research that underpins policy developments, and adapt to an increasingly diverse UK and international sector. Accordingly, we're reshaping and restructuring some of our activities."

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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