Universities may not have the evidence base needed under the new quality assurance regime to prove to the public that they are maintaining standards, according to the new director of review at the Quality Assurance Agency, writes Phil Baty.
Stephen Jackson, who took up his post this week, said that the QAA and institutions had "a lot of work to do in a short space of time" before the first of the new-style institutional audits takes place in March next year.
He said: "The biggest challenge is getting the evidence base."
An essential element of the six-year cycle of "light-touch" audits is the requirement that universities must collate reams of new information on their quality and standards, much of which is to be published. The QAA auditors will check and verify this information.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has demanded that institutions produce clearly accessible and consistent data on many areas, including student progression, achievement and employability.
In addition, institutions must also publish summaries of all external examiners' reports and all internal quality and standards review activity.
"The feasibility of producing some of the evidence is something we still have to work through with institutions," said Dr Jackson, who was previously director of partnerships and widening participation at Liverpool John Moores University.
"It is a challenge for institutions to produce the data that will be readily available to show the stakeholders that all is well. Not all institutions have a student information database that can produce the evidence. They need to produce consistent information and evidence, but it will take a while to work towards it."
Dr Jackson, 51 this week, said he understood criticism from some institutions that the amount of work needed to prepare for the new system was far from the light touch that was promised initially.
"I am well aware of the concern that institutions may prepare very heavily for the reviews, but it is the QAA's intention to work with institutions. It is supposed to be an open process".