THE Open University has come under fire from quality watchdogs over the way it manages its overseas partnerships.
Each faculty at the OU has so much freedom to develop its own links with institutions overseas that the university has no way of keeping track of such arrangements or monitoring the standard of jointly run courses, according to the former Higher Education Quality Council.
In one case, revealed in an HEQC audit report, a partnership between the OU's faculty of technology and the Technological Education Institute in Piraeus, Greece, was left to run for nearly four years without a formal contract.
The report says the OU, which has 25,000 students in 42 countries outside the United Kingdom, may not know that an overseas partnership is being developed until formal approval for it is sought. This would be at the end of a process of negotiation and development, carried out without central guidance, and with another institution.
It adds: "The university's present arrangements for reviewing its programmes of study, at what can be lengthy intervals, create the possibility that a programme offered through a partnership overseas could get into difficulties without the university (as opposed to one or more of its constituent parts) knowing about it for some time."
And it warns: "In such a situation, the absence of agreed procedures, for example, for the termination of an arrangement could give rise to time-consuming and expensive repercussions."
Geoff Peters, OU acting vice-chancellor, said it was "unfortunate" there had not been a contract with the institute, but described this as an isolated case. "It was unforgivable, but it was one tiny project that slipped through the system. We have learned some important lessons and we now have watertight overseas arrangements," he said.