Quality on line

March 20, 1998

Universities and colleges will be expected to provide students, employers, and quality watchdogs with clearer descriptions of the content and aims of their courses, under a proposed quality assurance system unveiled this week.

They will have to prepare programme "templates" stating objectives and outcomes of each course.

The information could be scrutinised by external examiners and included in prospectuses, on-line student guides and on websites, a Quality Assurance Agency consultation paper says.

They would show the main purposes and distinctive features of a course; what a graduate should know and be able to do on completion; intellectual, practical, personal and social qualities promoted by the course; the main subjects, levels, credits and qualifications covered and awarded; and the assessments and quality and standards checks carried out. The information could be used in the development of student transcripts and personal progress files maintained by students.

The templates would be linked to standards yardsticks to be developed in 41 subject areas by benchmarking groups, giving broad statements on student attainment expected at the degree pass level for specific awards and types of programme. The so-called "threshold standards" are to be piloted initially in chemistry, history and law from now until September.

All would be linked to a new national qualifications and credit framework for awards, including definitions of awards, levels and credits, and guidance on appropriate names for awards.

Standards would be verified and stated course objectives checked by registered external examiners, whose reports would form the basis of information published by the QAA. They would report to the QAA on a cycle of inspection that would ensure all subjects were covered in five or six years.

Running alongside subject reviews will be institutional reviews, to be judged against codes of quality assurance practice drawn up by the QAA. The codes will tell institutions what they should demonstrate through their own quality assurance systems.

The consultation paper says that institutional reviews will be carried out every five or six years. But this could be lengthened or shortened depending on results.

depending on whether an institution appears to be in full control of quality and standards or where it is giving cause for concern.

It adds: "Verifying the robustness of an institution's procedures in practice should mean that greater reliance can be placed upon them, thus allowing a lighter touch at the subject or programme level."

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