QAA activity is set to be stifled

June 29, 2001

The volume of university teaching quality inspections could be slashed beyond the 40 per cent cut ordered by former education secretary David Blunkett, under a new quality assurance blueprint, writes Phil Baty.

The board of Universities UK was today due to approve a new quality assurance system for England that will abandon the traditional principle of universal subject review and introduce an institution-wide audit-based approach.

The blueprint, due to be published jointly by UUK, the QAA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, has already won the general agreement of the funding council board and is expected to be published for consultation next month.

The paper will build on plans by Mr Blunkett to cut teaching quality inspections for top-performing departments.

The new system will be based more heavily on audits of universities' institution-wide quality assurance mechanisms, which will be used to establish risk and determine whether universities should be inspected at subject level.

It is understood that safeguards will be introduced to ensure that no institution is left free of any subject-level scrutiny, but some institutions could see massive reductions in QAA activity.

When Mr Blunkett announced the end of universal teaching quality assessment in March, he said the volume of inspections should be cut by about 40 per cent.

But it is expected that as the new system "beds in" and confidence in institutions' own internal systems increases, the volume of subject-level review could be cut by more than 50 per cent of today's levels.

The consultation paper is due to be published in early July, seeking approval for a system due to be in place by September 2002.

  • The London School of Economics appears to have softened its opposition to the Quality Assurance Agency.

In March, the LSE's academic board agreed a plan to "secede from its engagements with the QAA" and lead the Russell Group in open revolt.

It said the QAA had infringed academic freedom, imposed its own bureaucratic and pedagogical agenda, neglected student intellectual development and used incompetent and unprofessional reviewers.

But this week, a spokeswoman confirmed the LSE will allow the QAA to conduct an audit of its systems as planned in November 2001.

She said that the LSE "felt that it would be inappropriate for the board to endorse withdrawal from the audit, as it appears the QAA 'lighter touch' approach may affect this anyway".

The LSE is still lobbying for changes to the system, and is contributing to a planned Russell Group paper on alternative systems.

"The board did emphasise, however, that they would continue to work alongside sector colleagues to make constructive suggestions for the improvement of quality assessment systems that are informative and valuable for both students and staff," said the LSE spokeswoman.

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