Past the sell-by date

August 3, 2001

In the debate about teaching quality audits and the need to minimise the intrusive nature of the Quality Assurance Agency's processes I have seen little mention of the problem of the numerous pronouncements on teaching quality that remain in circulation despite their being totally out of date.

I offer just one example: the most recent audit of physics teaching in Scotland was in January 1994. Not only are the results nearly eight years old, but they are based on a briefly used (four-point) scale which leads to serious confusion when converting to more recent scoring schemes.

How much longer will league table publishers go on using this totally irrelevant data? As has been pointed out by your own columnists, most institutions have learnt to play the audit game with increasing success. Such data are not only out of date but the results, as obtained then, cannot, under any defensible methodology, be compared with recent outcomes.

If, as many hope, the government and the QAA were to draw back from their obsession with quantifying quality and leave the universities to take responsibility for maintaining education standards, could we be reassured that the old teaching scores would be expunged from league tables?

Without such an assurance any department that believes it can now put on a better show than previously will be forced to seek a QAA assessment as soon as possible.

A. C. Walker
Professor of modern optics
Heriot Watt University

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