A policy U-turn by the Higher Education Quality Council has heralded a review of its responsibilities across the further/higher education divide. The council will not now abandon its role in national arrangements for recognising access courses following an outcry from institutions and validating agencies.
Nearly all of 124 responses to a consultation paper contained strong objections to proposals for HEQC to cease licensing bodies which validate 1,200 access courses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The HEQC's board, faced with "massive budget constraints" and uncertainty over the future of quality assurance under a proposed new single agency, had proposed jettisoning expensive licensing duties.
Chief executive Roger Brown said the proposals also represented an attempt by the council to address a question of principle over whether it should be involved in assuring the quality of further education provision. But legal advice from the Department for Education and Employment and views from universities and colleges indicated that the council was trying to push its plans through too quickly.
The Standing Conference of Authorised Validating Agencies, the umbrella group representing validating bodies for access courses, complained of the "undignified haste" with which the HEQC had attempted to withdraw from its role.
Beverly Sand, who chairs SCAVA, wrote to Peter Williams, director of HEQC's quality assurance group, warning of "the potential damage such precipitate action may do to the credibility of access which had gained such a high degree of currency and respect under HEQC's guardianship, and the consequent potential discredit to HEQC's own reputation in apparently acting with so little regard for the wide-ranging consequences of such action".
A modified arrangement for access courses recognition has now been drawn up by HEQC.