The Quality Assurance Agency has stepped back from the brink of a confrontation with Cambridge University over quality audit.
It has given the university an extra 18 months to prepare to be audited following a series of meetings between QAA chief executive John Randall and Cambridge vice-chancellor Alec Broers.
The move amounts to a compromise between the QAA, which had planned to carry out the audit this year, and Cambridge quality chiefs, who argued that audit was unnecessary in the light of the university's excellent quality assessment record.
Mr Randall said the QAA was offering to adjust its audit time-table for Cambridge and three other institutions in recognition of their heavy assessment schedule over the next few months.
He denied that it heralded an agreement to treat Cambridge with a "lighter touch" under the QAA's proposals for a new quality system, which it will unveil next month.
"There is an understanding that review of institutional quality processes is part of what needs to be done overall," Mr Randall said. "But there are three or four institutions where, in our judgement, we would be expecting too much if we asked them to receive simultaneously a heavy load of assessment and audit."
Mr Randall declined to name the other institutions, but said they all had a large commitment to medicine, which is being assessed over the next few months.
"It is nothing to do with backing off from audit or anything in particular about the subject of medicine. It is just that we are doing what we were asked to do and lightening the burden where assessment and audit coincide," he added.
A consultation paper on the QAA's proposed new quality system, expected in two weeks, will give higher education leaders the opportunity to revisit the question of what is the appropriate balance between quality reviews at subject and institutional level, he said.