PLANS for a new quality assurance system have won a cautious welcome from university heads and lecturers. They have signalled their support for replacing the teaching quality assessment regime with a quality benchmarks for subjects checked by an army of approved external examiners.
The Association of University Teachers said the proposals, spelled out in a consultation paper circulated last week by the Quality Assurance Agency, should prove "less bureaucratic and more helpful to staff, students, employers and the public".
The AUT described the extended role for external examiners as "an excellent development", but added: "The quality agency must address the issue of how we can restore the prestige and attraction of the role so that our best and most respected academics will want to take it on."
This challenge raised issues of training for staff taking on the new registered external examiner role, release from other duties, and rewards for their work.
The AUT's only significant reservation was on the plans to develop a national qualifications framework. It was "not particularly reassured" by the QAA's statement that this would not stifle flexibility and diversity.
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said the proposed system looked cheaper to run than the present one. Quality policy adviser David Young said: "The new system has a lot going for it in that it uses and improves upon existing processes."
But the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, which has yet to sign up to the QAA's plans even though it is supporting piloting of the new standards in Scottish institutions, was non-committal.
A spokesman said: "The council will continue to have statutory responsibility for assessing the quality of higher education in Scotland. We look forward to working with the QAA as they develop their processes."