Quality policing too costly for comfort, say experts

November 13, 1998

New arrangements for policing quality in higher education may cost universities too much money, quality experts and funding councils have warned.

Conforming to the new quality assurance framework document published last month, will require "a lot of work" by institutions, said Roger Brown, principal of Southampton Institute, and former chief executive of the now defunct Higher Education Quality Council.

"It is hard to see how the new arrangements will not eventually cost more than the current ones we've got," said Dr Brown. "I don't want to carp - the document is a great step forward - but there is no reference to cost."

The Quality Assurance Agency's blueprint, which concentrates on the comparability of qualifications awarded by different institutions, includes plans for a new qualifications framework, new minimum benchmark degree standards, and explicit descriptions of intended course outcomes.

Dr Brown said that the plans, which are designed to cut bureaucracy by more closely aligning external scrutiny with internal processes, would actually add new tiers of administration. New plans for academic reviewers would be in addition to external examiners, he said.

"The document does not mean a slimmed down version of the existing framework," he said. "There is another layer on what we've already got. We are expecting a lot of work to get our internal infrastructure in place."

The concerns echo those of the higher education funding councils, which warned in a joint response to the document that although the proposals "could in principle deliver better value for money" through more selective targeting of external inspection, the plans "imply an investment by institutions in the robustness of their own procedures".

Julie Swan, assistant director at the QAA, said that it was too early to tell how much the new arrangements would cost institutions.

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