Quality plan thrown out

June 16, 1995

Vice chancellors have overwhelmingly rejected the Higher Education Funding Council for England's plan for a single quality assurance body. The rejection at last week's meeting of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals dashed the hopes of out-going chairman, Kenneth Edwards, that he could broker a deal.

HEFCE's report on quality assurance was sent to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, last week. It was sent later to vice chancellors and college heads. The two-stage plan is for: * a Process of Quality Assurance, developed by the council in consultation with institutions, for introduction in 1996/97. This would complete the first round of subject assessments. Regular audits by the Higher Education Quality Council would cease in 1996. The PQA would have power to order audits.

* a Quality Assurance Agency which, subject to council approval, would take over the second cycle of quality assessments from the PQA from 2000-2001.

* a Joint Planning Group, established by the council and chaired by its nominee, to plan the QAA.

CVCP members argued that the plan would not represent a genuine partnership; that the timetable was too long and the arrangements wholly under funding council control. They want to be jointly responsible for establishing the new body.

The funding council plan retains assessment by external assessment teams with one or two members from the institution being assessed.

Vice chancellors want to run their own internal assessments, with external scrutiny.

They also argued that ending institutional audit would mean that the wider responsibilities of the HEQC, which include auditing courses not funded by the funding council, would be excluded.

Vice chancellors were particularly alarmed that, as they see it, the funding council is proposing to use the new process to monitor academic standards.

Leslie Wagner, vice chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, argued that this would drive "a coach and horses through the autonomy of institutions".

They were also unhappy that the planned system is not nationwide, and seems to save neither time nor money. Only two members of CVCP voted to support the plan - David Watson of Brighton and Sir Brian Follett of Warwick, both HEFCE members.

The CVCP will now submit its own proposals to Mrs Shephard late this month. They will be based on the letter sent by Dr Edwards to Graeme Davies, chief executive of the funding council, at the end of April. This proposed a single quality body and a quality assurance process based on internal self-assessment with external scrutiny.

A funding council spokesman said: "The report submitted to the Secretary of State builds on the points made in the chairman of the CVCP's letter of April 24 and reflects discussions with him and the chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals."

Jim Burke, SCOP chairman, said it wants a single Quality Assurance Agency owned by higher education institutions and managed by a board with effective external membership, and a single system of quality assurance based on institutional processes with external involvement.

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