QAA's critical report attacked

October 8, 2004

The head of Britain's first specialist arts university has questioned the integrity of the Quality Assurance Agency after his institution was criticised by the standards watchdog in an audit report.

Sir Michael Bichard, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts and former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, accused the QAA of ignoring the facts and failing to provide evidence to reach its critical conclusions.

Although the QAA suggested that his response was no more than sour grapes, the university's criticism, unprecedented under the new audit system, raises further concerns about the sector's confidence in the "light-touch" regime. It also highlights the power students have to influence inspection reports.

The QAA audit on the university, previously the London Institute, reports students' concerns that the complaints and appeals system lacks "third-party impartial involvement" to the extent that students can be deterred from coming forward with concerns.

But in an outspoken formal response, published as an appendix to the report, Sir Michael says the university was "disappointed not to have been given an opportunity during the audit to refute the allegation".

The response says: "The auditors' analysis and recommendation in this area do not represent a reasoned or informed view of the facts, and no evidence is cited for the conclusions made."

The QAA, which inspected the institution in April, makes an overall judgement that "broad confidence" can be placed in the "soundness of the (university's) current and likely further management of the quality of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards".

But the report makes a number of critical judgements that were not disputed by the university.

It orders that the university should take action "without delay" to ensure the "consistent operation... (of) its regulations and procedures for external examining". The QAA also warns that inconsistency in admissions procedures could threaten "equity and fairness" for students.

Peter Williams, chief executive of the QAA, told The Times Higher : "The QAA is very careful not to make critical comments about an institution without clear and considered evidence to support them.

"This is set out fully in the audit report. We do not expect institutions in all cases to welcome criticism, and it is natural that they should wish to challenge a finding that does not show them in a favourable light."

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