Quality head in line of fire

January 14, 2005

Middlesex University has suspended the quality assurance chief at its School of Computing Science amid staff unrest over a "dumbing down" of standards revealed in The Times Higher .

The university confirmed in a memo to staff over Christmas that Alan Murphy, the school's director of curriculum, learning and quality, has been "suspended" while Ken Goulding, the deputy vice-chancellor, investigates a number of "issues" arising from a consultant's review of the school.

Norman Revell, the school's dean, has also moved to another part of the university.

The university would not discuss the report's findings, but the action follows The Times Higher 's report in November that business information systems degree students were taught to produce model answers in advance of exams over two consecutive terms. So many students produced identical exam answers that there was an investigation into mass plagiarism. The grades were allowed to stand after it emerged that students had been given model answers in revision classes.

This newspaper also established that at least two staff are pursuing employment tribunal claims against the school. In one case, a former course leader claims, under the law that protects whistleblowers, that he was victimised for raising the alarm about standards.

A former PhD student in the school had her tuition fees refunded after she claimed that the university wrongly persuaded her to take a more expensive PhD programme when she had applied to study for a masters degree. She failed to get the PhD.

Shivani Mody, from India, was repaid more than £8,000 she had paid in fees. In her formal grievance to the university, she claimed that she was not given the research skills training she was promised.

Middlesex this week declined to discuss the "confidential" consultant's review of the school, which The Times Higher has requested under the Freedom of Information Act. But a leaked memo containing a questionnaire sent to all staff gives clues about its focus.

In a section on quality assurance, staff have been asked to comment on quality, the management of quality and the student experience. There are questions on the amount of expertise in the school and the adequacy of technical and administrative support.

A Middlesex spokeswoman confirmed that the university had asked "an outside consultant to advise confidentially on its School of Computing Science".

But she said the university could not comment on ongoing tribunals.

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