Qualifications revamp urged

April 18, 1997

The qualifications system in higher education needs to be redefined and updated, academics are to be told.

Quality chiefs want universities and colleges to work towards a common framework for the qualifications they award.

In a report published this week, the Higher Education Quality Council calls for a new set of simple rules to govern qualifications, courses and standards.

Sir Ron Dearing has also placed policing standards alongside funding at the top of the agenda in his higher education inquiry and has warned against fudging the issue.

The HEQC report says it would be easier for institutions to keep an eye on standards and make comparisons if they all agreed on a common system for qualifications, award levels and pass marks.

Regulating these is increasingly complicated as more institutions introduce complex modular course systems that allow credit accumulation and transfer. Over 90 per cent of institutions have modular courses or are to introduce them.

The report admits a move to define new common rules might be seen as "a direct infringement of institutional autonomy".

But it adds: "It can also be argued that the adoption of conventions and greater convergence in practice would reduce unnecessary complexity and variability and improve the collective capacity of the sector to demonstrate a more consistent approach to self-regulation."

The report says variations could be ironed out in six key areas: qualifications, assessment, credit accumulation and transfer, curriculum, quality management and the definition of levels at which modules are taught or assessed.

Sir Ron's committee is also considering an expansion and strengthening of the external examiner system. Studies by the committee of quality arrangements in other countries have shown a more extensive external examiner scheme can work effectively.

Such a move would involve more academics in reaching agreements on how acceptable standards are defined in each subject area.

Regulatory frameworks for assuring academic standards in credit-based modular higher education, from UCAS, Fulton House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, price Pounds 10.

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