QAA questions college's move into research

July 21, 2000

Quality inspectors have raised serious concerns about Anglia Polytechnic University's expansion into research. They say it may not have the proper infrastructure for such a "significant shift in aspirations".

The Quality Assurance Agency said after a quality audit that APU suffers from "the current absence of an embedded research culture", particularly its attempts to increase postgraduate recruitment through a new graduate school.

The audit team reports that "in recent years the university has determined to expand with some rapidity its research base in terms of both staff and students.

"There is, however, evidence that further action is required to support the implications of this change, particularly in terms of the provision of an appropriate learning infrastructure and the responsiveness to the needs of the growing body of postgraduate students," said the QAA's inspection report.

The team warned that the quality of the university's "learning resources", as judged in subject reviews, was "significantly below the national average for post-1992 universities", giving an overall performance of slightly below average for the sector.

Problems with resources -notably with IT facilities, where the university has acknowledged that "major changes" are needed - were not causing too much harm to 84 per cent of undergraduates, but the minority of postgraduates had reported "grave concerns".

Postgraduates were "discontented" with library access and felt "considerable discontent not only with IT provision and support, but with what they perceived as a weak or non-existent response to attempts to raise matters of concern".

They reported severe problems with the email system last summer and overcrowding of IT facilities during term time.

"The (QAA) team believed this to be one symptom of the broader problems of the experience of postgraduate students in the current absence of an embedded research culture," the report said.

The auditors also said that although reports from undergraduates were "extremely positive", postgraduates were unhappy with the feedback available to them and believed they were "an invisible group".

Postgraduates, although happy with the contact with their supervisors, said it was "difficult to achieve a response to their grave concerns about the adequacy of the learning infrastructure at a higher level".

At undergraduate level, the auditors said that there "was reason for confidence" that standards were satisfactory, but they called for "swift action" to improve postgraduate provision.

The university's previous successful action to address earlier quality shortfalls "suggests that there is good reason for confidence that this matter will be tackled with the swift attention that it warrants", the QAA said.

APU said that the report commended several areas and that there were no recommendations for "necessary" action, just "advisable" action. APUsaid it had already identified the issues for action, and welcomed the report.

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