QAA links to sector betray students

May 26, 2006

Higher education watchdog the Quality Assurance Agency risks being too deep in universities' and the Government's pockets to expose failings in the sector, according to a damning report, writes Jessica Shepherd.

The Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies argues in its report that the agency "does not bark in the night" and amounts to a "conspiracy against the student".

The claims are made in a paper written by David Palfreyman, the centre's director and bursar of New College, Oxford. Mr Palfreyman writes: "The existing quality watchdogs... are fatally compromised by being unable to speak truth to power by way of Government or, to a lesser extent, HE institutions, since one or the other (or both) finance them.

"The former will not appreciate being told that its underfunding of higher education has led to dumbing down while the latter will not welcome being told that the emphasis on the Kash and Kudos (sic) of research has short-changed teaching. Thus, Government, institutions and the quality agencies are together a conspiracy against the student."

Mr Palfreyman says a watchdog could work if the academic hierarchy in universities radically changes, if students continue to wield greater consumer power and academics "begin to be assertive".

He argues that journalists, such as Phil Baty, chief reporter at The Times Higher , uncover scandals to a far greater extent than the QAA.

Mr Palfreyman writes: "Quality control might also be achieved by the efficiency of journalists more than by expensive agencies. It was the persistence of Phil Baty at The Times Higher that, using the Freedom of Information Act, exposed the scandal of De Montfort University adding up to 14 per cent to the marks of some of its pharmacy students to avoid too high a failure rate."

A QAA spokeswoman said: "We understand the importance of the QAA's role and work with the sector and the Government to safeguard academic standards and encourage continuous improvement in the quality of higher education. Our review work is carried out with the rigour and effectiveness the public interest requires."

Want to blow the whistle? Call Phil Baty on 0207 782 3298

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