Paisley must open panels to scrutiny

February 8, 2002

Degree standards at the University of Paisley are at risk because Paisley does not open its assessment decisions to proper independent scrutiny, quality chiefs have warned, writes Phil Baty.

An audit report from the Quality Assurance Agency warns that a number of "shortcomings" in assessment arrangements "limit the degree of confidence that can be placed in the security of the university's academic standards". The QAA team said the university must ensure that the deliberations and decisions of its assessment panels were open to independent scrutiny as a matter of necessity.

The QAA praised Paisley for establishing a new campus, moving to "challenging vocational and professional activities" and working to widen access. It stressed that there was no evidence that any degree classification decisions had been made incorrectly, but it said problems with assessment had to be tackled.

The introduction of modular courses since 1995 had not been managed as well as other big changes, the team said, and "ambiguities" in the way Paisley described its management structures had caused confusion. Paisley delegates responsibility for academic standards to its faculties, and assessment decisions are made by "module panels".

But, the QAA warned, "external examiners are not expected or required to attend meetings of module panels, therefore not all external examiners are in a position to verify that the correct procedures have been followedI or that results have been accurately stated at this level". Some panels did not keep proper records of deliberations, so the university would be in "significant difficulty" if a student were to allege maladministration or procedural irregularities.

The university was aware of the problems, the audit team said, and had begun to improve the situation. But not all the issues had been addressed, and more effort was needed. Overall, the QAA urged action in ten areas, and praised Paisley in five areas.

The university welcomed the report, a spokesman said. "The university, however, recognises that there are a number of areas for consideration, and the university will take these forward and report back to QAA accordingly."

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