Concern about the limited rights of appeal against the verdict of quality inspectors surfaced this week in the wake of the most critical report so far on a university's management.
As The Times Higher revealed earlier this month, Anglia Polytechnic University has become the first fully fledged university to be told that the Quality Assurance Agency has "limited confidence" in its management standards.
QAA inspectors said APU needed urgently to review its monitoring of the quality of awards and its procedures for communicating policies and codes of practice to staff and students. While concluding that there was a strong emphasis on teaching and learning, the inspectors said: "There can be limited confidence in the soundness of the university's present and likely future management of the quality of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards."
The retirement of Michael Malone-Lee as vice-chancellor this summer has already seen a change in APU's top management, with the arrival of David Tidmarsh, formerly pro vice-chancellor at the University of Central England. He became vice-chancellor one month after the QAA inspectors'
The university's official response to the audit report says: "APU takes very seriously both the limited confidence judgement made by the auditors about its quality systems and the lack of any appeal procedure within QAA against this decision."
Professor Tidmarsh said that the university was cooperating with the QAA to resolve the inspectors' concerns. But he said: "If you look at the standard thing that the QAA says about confidence in the future management, I think it's hard to say that when there is a new team in place that is addressing things. I find it a very odd conclusion to come to."
The QAA said that an appeal process was in place for "not approved" or "no-confidence" judgements and "A1" findings in a subject review. These are the only circumstances in which appeals against reviewers' judgements may be made, according to its rules. The agency runs a complaints procedure, but this is for institutions wishing to challenge the way a review was carried out.
The QAA said: "On changes in management, our reviewers look at the institution and its systems rather than the individuals. A student setting out on three years of expensive study wants to know that the university will continue to maintain quality and standards even if the entire senior management team leave."
APU is the third institution, out of 59 QAA audits, to receive a limited confidence verdict.