Quality chiefs are concerned about Bournemouth University's rapid expansion of collaborative provision, casting doubt over its ten-year business plan, writes Phil Baty.
A Quality Assurance Agency audit has uncovered numerous quality control weaknesses in local and international collaborations. The university even failed to provide an "authoritative" list of its partners, the QAA said.
Overall standards were being maintained, but this was partly because of hard-working individuals, the QAA said. The cumulative effects of the problems raised questions about the university's ambitious plans for future collaborations.
The QAA team said: "There was reason for concern about the capacity of the university's structures and procedures to assure quality of provision and effective central oversight of an expanded portfolio of partnerships, particularly overseas."
Expansion in these areas forms a fundamental part of Bournemouth's business plans. The university has steadily increased its collaborative partnerships since 1994, and now about 10 per cent of its 11,000 students study through such partnerships.
Bournemouth's strategic plan for 1999-2009 includes increasing sub-degree provision by 25 per cent a year, largely through local partners.
The university has 18 overseas partners, and it plans to achieve a "15 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of students studying for the university's awards overseas over the period (1999-2009)."
The QAA auditors found problems with the accuracy of information on the courses. "The team had some difficulty in obtaining a complete list of arrangements on the basis of the documentary information provided," it said. In one case, a course listed in a partner's prospectus did not appear on the university's list.
The QAA said that the university should consider how to "strengthen its central oversight of all forms of publicity for its awards".
Variations were discovered in practices and procedures for the formal liaison between the university and its partners, and the QAA was concerned that the university lacked control over some appointments in partner schools. "The university may wish to consider the advisability of formulating a procedure to enable it to assure itself of the competencies of new staff involved in the delivery of courses leading to its awards."
The QAA said that overall the university's arrangements for assuring the standards of its degrees were effective and there was no evidence that the problems with collaborations had affected quality and standards. "The university will no doubt wish to ensure that the future expansion of its collaborative activities takes place with appropriate monitoring and that the university, at central level, is able to exercise continuing oversight of its awards."