Quality Assurance Agency ‘not satisfactory’, regulator claims

Agency rebuts Office for Students report which ‘substantially misrepresents’ role in assessing higher education providers, as major rift exposed

January 26, 2023
Two dogs pull on the rope
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The English regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), has voiced “significant concerns” about the work of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), its outgoing designated quality body (DQB).

In a critical report, the QAA’s work was said to be “not satisfactory” due to its assessments of higher education providers being often delayed and not meeting regulatory requirements.

The OfS also said the QAA’s growing membership offering was a potential “conflict of interest” and the issues meant it was not providing value for money for providers or their students.

In conclusion, the regulator said it would have recommended the QAA be stripped of its DQB role – under which it conducts assessments relating to the allocation of degree-awarding powers and the right to use the university title – if the QAA had not already announced its intention to give up the designation in March.

In response, the QAA said it contested the conclusions of the report and said it “substantially misrepresents” its work as the relationship between the two organisations tasked with upholding quality in the sector turned increasingly sour.

The QAA has fulfilled the DQB role since the creation of the OfS in 2018 and the regulator prepared a belated triennial review in April 2022, but it has remained under wraps since then as the findings were contested. The OfS said it had decided to publish a summary of the report because there was “strong public interest” in doing so.

“The OfS’ conclusion presented to the secretary of state in the triennial report is that the QAA has not performed, and is unlikely in future to perform, the assessment functions such that quality and standards will be effectively assessed for higher education providers in England,” the report says.

“Our view is that the designation of the QAA is no longer appropriate and the OfS supports the QAA’s request to have its designation removed,” it adds.

The OfS said reports provided by the QAA after conducting assessments of providers were “not fit for purpose because they do not meet the OfS’ requirements for use in regulatory decisions.

“They are not consistent with the regulatory framework and are often not delivered on time.”

OfS has been more interventionist as a regulator since its inception and has clashed with the QAA on its approach to assessing quality and standards.

New conditions of registration include requirements for providers to meet certain thresholds for completion and progression and the OfS said the QAA had not come up with sufficient proposals for how it would conduct its assessments with these in mind.

“The issues relating to the QAA’s performance have prevented, and continue to prevent, the OfS from regulating effectively in the interests of students and taxpayers,” the report states.

It says it has been unable to make registration decisions “with confidence” and some have been “significantly delayed”.

Guidance and reports published by the QAA in its capacity as a voluntary membership organisation “advocate for policy positions that are not, or may not be, consistent with the OfS’ approach”, the report adds.

“Providers that follow this guidance may incorrectly assume that they will satisfy the OfS’ regulatory requirements as set out in the conditions of registration.”

The QAA said it stepped away from being the DQB after it was suspended from the European Quality Assurance Register because the OfS’ requirements “conflicted with international standards in quality assurance”. The OfS is preparing to take this function in-house temporarily while the search for a permanent solution continues. 

“QAA has contested the content and conclusion of OfS’ triennial report, and made representations against it. In QAA’s opinion the final report, and the published summary, substantially misrepresent QAA’s record as DQB,” the QAA said.

“But we do not think it serves the interests of students or the sector for QAA to engage in a protracted public disagreement with OfS, and so we do not intend to publish a detailed rebuttal or to make further statements on this matter at this time.”


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Reader's comments (3)

The misnamed Quality Assurance Agency is not fit for purpose it is bureaucratic bloat causing even more bureaucratic bloat at Universities. Abolish it and free up money to pay academics properly. The Office for Students is also a waste of valuable resources, causing even more bureaucratic bloat at UK universities. We could sack at least 50% of admin types and 70% or more of senior management at UK universities with better outcomes resulting for both students and academics. The money is there but gets wasted on deputy VCs, deputy deputy VCs deputy Presidents etc etc and their silly building projects.
I wouldn't disagree with Maverick2's request for better pay for university staff! And there is some evidence from a recent OECD report that the growth in managerialism and high pay in universities has not been matched by a growth in efficiency (while senior management pay and numbers have increased by 100%, student numbers have only increased by 80%). But in defence of the OfS there has to be some monitoring of university performance. Otherwise some institutions can get away with pretty dismal dropout figures.
Having worked both with and for QAA in the past I have to disagree. The advantage of QAA was that it was independent of both the government & professional bodies & thus able to focus entirely on quality issues. The OfS on the other hand is a tool of government policy, not independent. An example is the use of non-completion rates. Whilst quality issue are important here a wide variety of factors can lead to non-completion.