QAA casts doubt over Wales' federal degrees

November 12, 2004

Quality watchdogs are to deliver another major blow to the federal University of Wales, concluding that they have only "limited confidence" in the standards of its degrees, The Times Higher has learnt.

A leaked draft of a report by the Quality Assurance Agency says "limited evaluation" by the university of degrees delivered by its ten member institutions means it cannot be confident of assuring their quality. It is only the second time that watchdogs have reached such a conclusion for a university.

The report's findings will make uncomfortable reading for the university, whose future already seems uncertain as some of its members prepare to apply for their own degree-awarding powers. Cardiff University has already left the federal institution.

But it still validates degrees for other major universities in Wales, including Swansea, Bangor, Aberystwyth and Lampeter.

Publication of the final version has been put back until early next year after the university asked the QAA for more time to respond. QAA auditors say that, although there is broad confidence in the university's quality assurance systems, it is hard to see how it can "balance its collective institutional responsibility for standards and quality" with other federal activities and initiatives.

The report also says it is "unclear as to the direction of the university in respect of quality and standards". The QAA says it has been unable to find a "coherent and consistently applied" policy used by the university to monitor all "operational and procedural requirements" contained in communications with member institutions.

It also criticises the university for allowing students only "limited" involvement in its decision-making.

The QAA declined to comment on the contents of the draft report this week.

In a statement, the university said it "takes very seriously what the draft report has to say about its own role in overseeing the standards of degrees".

It pointed out that it is already undergoing an internal review, the results of which are expected at about the same time as the final QAA report.

It added: "Even before the QAA review, the university and its member institutions had identified the need to reform structures and inter-institutional relationships within the university, and the university has established a high-powered working group to formulate proposals for new arrangements."

The university added that it would respond formally to the QAA report once its committees had given the report's findings and recommendations "careful consideration". It would then have to wait for publication of the final report, expected early in the new year.

"Like every institution that is subject to review by the agency, the university will... produce an action plan in which it will set out steps that it will take to address any issues that have been raised by the agency. The thrust of the action plan and of the report of the working group will necessarily be consistent one with the other," the university said.

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