Quality chiefs prefer secrecy

June 28, 1996

Reports on universities' and colleges' quality assurance arrangements should not be made public and institutions should set their own standards, quality chiefs have proposed.

The results of institution-wide reviews of the management of quality systems - part of a planned three-stage regime under a new single quality agency - should be a shared secret between the agency and institution, a report says.

And academic standards ought to be "regarded as a matter for which institutions have prime responsibility" and the new agency's role should be "to invite institutions to explain how they set and monitor their own standards".

The report, from a working party set up by the joint planning group for the new agency, notes institutions' concern about "increased intrusiveness and potential burden" of the new quality system outlined in the planning group's first report, published in April.

The working party's blueprint for a single quality system proposes that agency interest in self-evaluation, the first stage of the new quality process, should be confined to the creation of evidence required for the second stage, subject/programme area review. The timing and focus of the second stage and third stage, institution-wide review, should be negotiated between the agency and institutions.

Each insitution should be encouraged to produce a rolling quality assurance plan indicating which courses are to be reviewed over a six-year period, including details of any reviews by professional and statutory bodies, the report says.

Institution-wide reviews would result in a report covering an institution's policies for achieving its educational aims, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. But students, employers and other interested outside parties would not be able to see the reports.

The working party underlines the difficulties of reducing demands on institutions in the new quality system.

The planning group's terms of reference and its "detailed requirements", which were vetted by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, made it "extremely difficult to envisage how immediate and significant reductions in the demands of external quality assurance procedures on higher education institutions might be achieved", the report says.

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