Regular institutional reviews by the Quality Assurance Agency are to be abolished under plans for a new risk-based inspection system.
As part of proposals published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 29 June, universities with a strong track record will no longer face reviews every six years from the sector’s standards watchdog.
Instead of the “process-driven” review process, universities will instead be monitored via analysis of student academic outcomes, which may include data about student satisfaction, dropout rates and graduate employment rates.
Under the new plans outlined by Hefce in a consultation document, there will also be an enhanced role for universities’ and colleges’ own assurance systems, with governing bodies asked to confirm that their senates or academic boards were reviewing the quality of their students’ academic experience and academic standards.
External examining is also to be strengthened, with the creation of a national register of external examiners and the development of training schemes.
The proposals draw on a sector-wide consultation on quality assurance, new research and the advice of a steering group led by Dame Shirley Pearce, former vice-chancellor of the University of Loughborough.
The plans aimed to “deliver a quality assessment system that puts the student needs at the centre, pays greater attention to outcomes rather than process, is risk-based rather than formulaic, and which looks to reduce the administrative burden on institutions,” said Dame Shirley.
The plans are broadly similar to a document seen by Times Higher Education earlier this month.
The plans for a new quality assurance system were broadly welcomed by the Russell Group, which said it wanted to see a “risk-based, proportionate and light-touch” regime.
However, the group’s director general Wendy Piatt said it had “some concerns”, saying that the new system must “genuinely reduce the regulatory burden on high-performing institutions, and continue to protect the UK higher education brand”.
“Institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential components of the success of the UK's universities,” she said.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said any quality assurance regime must remain “fit for purpose for the whole of the United Kingdom and in a significantly changed higher education environment, adapting to increasing diversity in students and institutions”.
She said Universities UK would set up a working group to play a role in reform, having already published a report on the issue earlier this year.
Alex Bols, acting chief executive of GuildHE, also welcomed the report’s publication, saying the group wanted a “constructive debate about the fundamental principles of the quality assessment system and the proposals in more detail during the consultation”.
“We are keen to emphasise the importance of a system that places the student learning experience at its heart whilst recognising the central role of institutional autonomy in delivering high-quality education in innovative and engaging ways that maintain the strength in diversity of the higher education sector,” he said.
More response to the Hefce consultation paper
Anthony McClaran, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education:
“This consultation offers an opportunity to shape a new direction and build on the internationally recognised strengths of the current quality assurance system. The future of UK higher education and its reputation for quality must be based on the key principles of independent, external peer review in partnership with providers and students.
“QAA has pioneered student engagement with quality in teaching and learning. This generation of students will be partners in the drive to improve education for the next generation. Working with the sector, QAA will engage positively with the funding councils and BIS as they develop their respective proposals.
“QAA can bring extensive expertise to this debate. We will be offering ideas to shape a genuinely risk-based, proportionate approach, tailored to the track record and circumstances of each individual college or university; an approach that is truly UK-wide and underpins the reputation of UK higher education internationally.”
Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of University Alliance:
“High quality teaching and learning is critical to creating the world’s future leaders and problem solvers. We all need to feel confident that a new regime will maintain the quality of the UK higher education system.”
Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of million+:
“The consultation raises a number of complex issues and universities will wish to carefully consider their responses. However if the end result is that England loses an independent external quality assurance system there would be concerns about the impact on the reputation of UK higher education both within the UK but also overseas.
"It is also important that the reviews of institutions that are already scheduled either occur or are replaced in a way that satisfies quality assurance requirements and gives universities confidence that their ability to recruit international students will not be put at risk.”
Times Higher Education will bring you more on this breaking story throughout the day. For the consultation document, see related files (below).