QAA framework plans slammed as 'pointless'

October 29, 1999

Quality chiefs' proposals to end inconsistency in the level and nomenclature of higher education qualifications have been dismissed as "pointless" by an expert on progression through higher education.

Dave Robertson, author of an influential report on credit accumulation and qualifications, said the Quality Assurance Agency's plans, announced last week, fail to "move anything on from where we were".

The QAA began consultation over a five-level framework of higher education qualifications, with HNCs at level one, bachelor degrees with honours at level three and doctorates at level five. The framework, in which all qualifications will be defined in terms of minimum "credit", is to clarify routes of student progression and to form a common currency for credit accumulations and transfer.

But Professor Robertson, professor of public policy and education at Liverpool John Moores University, said the plans were "pointless" and would "place the qualifications system in a straitjacket, rather than freeing it up and making it more flexible".

He said the QAA's failure to include any mention of further education "makes the whole thing pointless". In terms of lifelong learning and creating a seamlessness between further and higher education, "it's all ladders and no bridges", he said.

Others said the plans failed to understand the sectors' diversity. Alan Smithers, professor of education and director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Liverpool University, said the plans looked like "tidiness for the sake of tidiness".

"I'm not sure how much use it will be," he said. "People assume there is such a thing as a standard for a degree ... but they lose sight of the fact that the most important aspect is the abilities of the people brought together to study.

The plans seem to be dealing with notional equivalence, which won't have much reality in practice."

The framework, which would mean scrapping the automatic award of MAs to Oxbridge degree holders after seven years, was criticised by Oxford and Cambridge last week as an attack on diversity.

Postgraduate students are only marginally more happy with the plans. Jeremy Hoad, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, said the NPC "broadly supports" the proposals, particularly its consistent nomenclature.

The committee was less happy about plans to rationalise postgraduate programmes into two levels - masters level (HE4) and doctorate level (HE5).

"The key area that will now need to be debated is how the different levels ...

will be defined. At the masters level, we would say four-year degrees and, arguably, MBAs would not meet the credit level required."

Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, has urged the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to back off from signing up with the QAA.

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