QAA faces boycott by 66,000 lecturers

March 30, 2001

The Quality Assurance Agency was plunged deeper into crisis this week as lecturers threatened a boycott and quality chiefs attacked government over its "lighter touch" inspection plan.

A proposal for a full boycott of "all QAA and QAA-related visits and procedures" will be put to the annual conference of lecturers' union Natfhe in May. Natfhe has 66,000 members in new universities and colleges of higher and further education, many of whom teach courses audited by the QAA.

News of a potential lecturers' revolt comes a week after The THES reported a plan by the London School of Economics to lead the research-led Russell Group of universities in open rebellion against the QAA's scrutiny.

It also comes amid a furious game of brinkmanship between the agency and the body that holds its future in its hands, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

QAA chiefs are furious that they have been bounced by Hefce into accepting a plan to cut the volume of inspections by 40 per cent. This would be achieved by exempting departments with previously good results from further subject review inspections in the new round and introducing a "sampling" approach. Education secretary David Blunkett announced these "lighter touch" plans last week.

Chief executive John Randall wrote an angry letter to Hefce's head of institutions, Stephen Marsten, this week, warning that the system could be open to a judicial review and the whole regime would lack "legitimacy" if plans were rushed through.

In a letter to Hefce chief executive Brian Fender, QAA chairman Christopher Kenyon revealed that he was not even in the country when Mr Blunkett announced a rethink of the new regime. "I will not conceal my disappointment at this latest turn of events," he said.

Randall and Kenyon made it clear that the QAA had not yet agreed to key details of the plans forced on them by Hefce. But the funding council this week pushed the stand-off closer to the brink by announcing further details of the proposals without the QAA's backing.

Hefce and the other UK funding councils have a legal duty to ensure that university standards are monitored, and they contract with the QAA to conduct that activity.

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