An investigation into the academic standards of an electronics course at Anglia Ruskin University, initiated after concerns were raised by a former member of staff, has found no substantive evidence of dumbing down.
The Quality Assurance Agency looked into the Cambridge-based institution’s bachelor of engineering in electronics course after the former staff member sounded alarm bells in January, claiming that module delivery and assessment had been “dumbed down” for a small group of international students recruited directly to the second year of the course based on their prior learning credit.
The QAA appointed Jonathan Scott, a professor at the University of Leicester, and two internal staff to carry out the investigation.
According to their report, the former staff member had reported concerns about the international students to a senior manager at Anglia Ruskin, who had suggested that the lecturer should “aim to deliver half of the [module’s] content, if possible”, with an “appropriate/proportionate exam paper”. The review team considered that this initial response “was vague and might be taken to suggest a lowering of standards for this group of students”.
However, in an email the following day, the senior manager revised their initial response to say that “all the learning outcomes in the module must be covered”. The external examiner for the course confirmed that the students covered the intended learning outcomes, and all five passed the module. Across all modules, the students in question had not performed significantly worse than their peers and, ultimately, the investigation found no substantive evidence of a lowering of academic standards.
In the QAA complaint, the ex-employee also questioned the academic standard of a June 2013 exam paper, reported that staff were unresponsive to complaints made by students, and complained about a “weakness of teaching” by part-time staff. “Inappropriate” recruitment of international students was also reported as an issue to the QAA’s “concerns” scheme, which addresses issues that may indicate a systemic threat to academic standards at a higher education provider.
The investigation team found that although some students had expressed concern in relation to the 2013 paper, the exam in question had been approved by the external examiner. While staff-student communications in connection with the electronics course “were uneven in the past”, they had become “more effective in the past year or so”, the report found, and although Anglia Ruskin should “consider introducing a more formal process” for appointing part-time staff who provide fewer than 100 hours’ teaching, the institution was “taking reasonable measures” to assure the quality of teaching delivered by such employees.
The QAA has recommended that the university should carefully monitor the effectiveness of staff-student communication and improve its processes for prior learning credit arrangements. The university has also been asked to draw up an action plan to address the findings of the investigation, and confirm how it intends to put these recommendations into practice.
An Anglia Ruskin spokesman said: “These complaints, made by one individual, have been fully investigated by ourselves, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the external body which accredits the course, and now by the QAA.
“We welcome the QAA’s report which, like the previous investigations, shows that none of the allegations have any substance.”