Private Bucks asks for public QAA scrutiny

November 22, 2002

While most universities have spent the best part of a decade trying to wriggle out of it, Britain's only private university has volunteered to subject itself to the scrutiny of the quality inspectors.

The University of Buckingham confirmed this week that it has invited the Quality Assurance Agency to audit its degree courses.

As Britain's only fully independent degree-awarding institution, Buckingham is not subject to compulsory quality inspection, but it has decided to benchmark itself against its publicly funded university rivals to back up its claims to academic excellence.

The move follows the arrival of former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead, who joined Buckingham as a professor earlier this year.

Buckingham, modelled on the private foundations in the US and set up in 1973 as a non profit-making educational charity, teaches about 750 undergraduates from about 80 different countries. It has been blazing a trail for the free market in higher education, charging students almost £11,000 a year for intensive two-year degree courses.

Vice-chancellor Terence Kealey declined to be interviewed by The THES . He said he did not want to make a "big deal" out of the decision.

But a spokeswoman said the university was volunteering "off our own back, because we feel it will be helpful to the university".

Buckingham has been frustrated by its exclusion from newspaper league tables, as there is no publicly available information about the quality of its courses.

It admits only 2 to 3 per cent of its students through the University and Colleges Admissions Service.

Staff at Buckingham feel they have a strong claim to excellence. The university boasts a staff to student ratio of one-to-nine, and offers Oxbridge-style one-on-one tutorials. Its business and law courses are well regarded.

Nicola Channon, a director at the QAA, said that Buckingham would be among the first institutions to receive a new-style audit to be introduced this academic year.

"This shows that institutions feel there are a number of clear benefits of going through the audit experience," she said.

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