QAA berates Greenwich over academic standards

Watchdog demands that ‘misleading’ information and ‘inconsistencies’ are addressed.

October 9, 2009

The University of Greenwich has received a “limited confidence” rating from the Quality Assurance Agency over concern about its management of academic standards.

In an audit report published this week, the watchdog criticises the institution for giving “misleading” information in its quality assurance handbook about two awards that it grants to some students who have failed to complete courses.

It also says that the introduction by Greenwich of new measures for assessing students has led to an increase in first- and upper-second-class awards at the university.

The first criticism stems from the university’s claim in its handbook that all its awards are covered by the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ).

This was set up to allow achievement to be compared across different qualifications.

In fact, the QAA says that two awards given to students who fail to complete courses – the Greenwich “diploma” and “certificate” – do not comply with the framework.

Although the awards are confirmed by examination boards, they are not linked to the original course specifications or to assessed, predefined outcomes, it says.

Students were at risk of being misled, the QAA says, because of the claim in the handbook that “all awards offered by the university must conform to the FHEQ”.

The watchdog also identifies inconsistency in the way new assessment procedures have been applied by the university. It says that 7 per cent of students had been given better grades than they should have been as a result.

The watchdog concludes that it has “limited confidence” in Greenwich’s management of academic standards in its undergraduate degrees.

It says it is essential that the university “reviews the nomenclature and status of awards that fall outside the scope of the FHEQ, but which nonetheless use its terminology”.

It also criticises Greenwich for failing to properly investigate why some students’ marks did not fit with any of the three methods used for measuring achievement.

“While this situation was noted by the Learning and Quality Committee, no clear action to investigate further was instigated,” the audit team says.

They conclude that the system used by Greenwich is “not operating as intended”.

The QAA orders the university to apply its own regulations more consistently and to ensure that its assessment board decisions “do not undermine the university’s assurance of the standards of its taught undergraduate awards”.

A spokeswoman for Greenwich said action was being taken “to fully address the points raised” and pledged to “go further to ensure that our quality assurance processes build on the guidance given and further enhance our students’ teaching and learning”.

She added that the university welcomed other, more positive aspects of the QAA report.

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‘Weaknesses in the system’: Leeds Met causes concern

On 9 October the Quality Assurance Agency published its audit report on Leeds Metropolitan University – it was also given a “limited confidence” rating.

While in many respects the university’s governance, management and academic regulations are considered to provide “effective and rigorous” assurance of academic standards, the audit team identifies “weaknesses in the system which created a higher than acceptable degree of risk”.

For example, minutes of the three committees of the university’s academic board did not show evidence of detailed discussions on the outcomes of key quality assurance procedures.

The university could not, therefore, be sure that such procedures were working to assure quality, the QAA concludes.

The audit team also notes “with concern, evidence of inconsistent application of process between faculties, particularly in programme approval, monitoring and review”.

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