Professional bodies are abandoning their direct role in the monitoring of quality on university courses, according to a new report from the Quality in Higher Education project at the University of Central England, Birmingham.
The report says: "There is a shift within professional bodies from control of standards through direct input, to indirect monitoring of standards."
Authors Lee Harvey and Selena Mason say: "Although there is a strongly supported view within higher education that professional bodies should continue to have a role in quality monitoring, the professional bodies themselves argue that they need no role beyond accreditation."
But the report, The Role of Professional Bodies in Higher Education Quality Monitoring, points out that while minimum standards are required from "initial" education, standards are more closely specified by professional bodies at the professional level. In practice this means that with law, for example, there is very close control over the legal practice course, but far weaker control over the undergraduate law degree.
The report recommends that the increasing use of the external examiner system by professional bodies to monitor standards of initial and professional education be encouraged.
Only a few professional bodies are directly involved in the work of the Higher Education Quality Council and the funding councils' assessment divisions - although there is a strong desire among some organisations that their work be better coordinated with that of the professional bodies. Of the proposed single quality agency, the Law Society said: "Whatever merger takes place we would hope that there are ground-based assessment processes for the quality of experience for students.
"All of the professional bodies were concerned about the development of NVQs above the technician level," said Professor Harvey. "They argue that the competence-based assessment criteria of NVQs will not produce 'reflective practitioners'."