QAA reviews ‘could be abolished’

Institutional reviews by the Quality Assurance Agency could become a thing of the past in favour of more robust internal monitoring by universities themselves, a draft policy paper suggests.

June 8, 2015

Under the plans, outlined in draft proposals seen by Times Higher Education, universities would be freed from cyclical reviews by the sector’s standards watchdog, which generally take place at established providers every five to seven years.

Instead, it will be “assume[d] that a provider continues to meet the baseline requirements unless or until material evidence emerges to suggest otherwise”, the draft paper says.

To achieve that end, there would be a “gold-plating” of internal quality and standards assurance processes that will “place more emphasis on the responsibility of autonomous providers to safeguard academic standards and the quality of the student learning experience”, according to the draft document, Future Approaches to Quality Assessment – England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the final version of which is due to be released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England later this month.

It follows the start of an ongoing consultation into the future of quality assurance, which was launched in October.

“The implication of this approach is that providers established within the sector should not be repeatedly tested against the baseline requirements – unless prima facie evidence emerges to suggest that this is necessary,” says the draft report, which explains that institutions “should be free to determine for themselves what a good and improving student academic experience should look like in the context of their own mission, and to confirm that promises made to students are kept”.

The draft proposals, which have emerged ahead of the QAA’s annual conference in Leeds on 10-11 June – could lead to savings at the organisation, which costs about £5 million a year to run, and could cut the estimated annual £1 billion regulatory burden on the sector, according to Mark Leach, editor of higher education policy site WonkHE, who has also seen the document.

Under the proposed new system, Hefce would oversee quality by using current rules that require universities to have an “effective framework – overseen by its senate, academic board or equivalent – to manage the quality of learning and teaching and to maintain standards”.

Hefce would use the annual data returns for a five-yearly assurance review, assessing whether governing bodies are delivering on their promises regarding student outcomes.

“These well-developed processes…provide a helpful degree of comfort that the removal of a cyclical external review process would not lead to the loss of careful consideration of the quality of the student academic experience,” the document says.

Such changes would likely increase the importance of data surrounding the National Student Survey and incomes of graduates as measured by the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education as they would be used by universities and  “by the relevant funding body to undertake routine monitoring of institutional performance as a way to identify signs of concern about that student academic experience”.

“We believe that this approach would represent a significantly reduced burden for many providers as it would remove the need for ‘one size fits all’ cyclical quality review of baseline requirements,” the draft report states.

Hefce was approached for comment about the draft document but declined to comment.

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