Quality control agency delayed

March 23, 2001

Delays in appointments to the governing board of Australia's new University Quality Agency have put back the timetable for audits to begin by several months. The first audits were due to start this month.

Auditors are expected to focus on the quality-control procedures used by universities. They will also review the approval and accreditation processes adopted by the states and territories for certifying private providers of higher education courses.

But despite calls by some groups, the agency will not investigate complaints against institutions: that remains the responsibility of the governing council or whichever authority is responsible for the institution.

Ministers agreed to establish the agency as a company rather than a statutory authority. Earlier this month, it appointed David Woodhouse its first executive director after considering more than 70 applications for the post from around the world.

Dr Woodhouse, a former academic at La Trobe University in Melbourne, will take up his appointment in June. He is currently director of New Zealand's Universities Academic Audit Unit and president of the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies.

The agency was set up a year ago following a decision by federal and state ministers to monitor quality control.

All higher education institutions and the relevant accrediting bodies will be audited over five years, with publicly available annual reports revealing any inadequacies. The various state and federal governments will contribute A$1 million (£342,000) a year to cover the agency's operating costs, but each institution will have to pay for its audit.

David Beanland, former vice-chancellor of RMIT University in Melbourne, who is to chair the board, said he and his colleagues were delighted to have someone of Dr Woodhouse's experience to take charge of the agency.

He said it was too early to say that all issues had been addressed but two questions appeared uppermost in the minds of vice-chancellors: will the agency understand the differences between institutions, and will it create annual league tables?

"We will not be insensitive to the differences between universities," Professor Beanland said. "And we will not attempt to create a league table of institutions."

He said that when the agency was fully operational, at least eight institutional audits would be conducted each year along with an audit of a state or territory authority.

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