THE LATEST version of the Quality Assurance Agency's revamped proposals for policing higher education standards is a significant step forward, vice-chancellors agreed last week.
The ideas, outlined last Friday by agency chief executive John Randall, would involve "reviewers" or "reporters" monitoring institutions' own quality checks. This would radically reduce the burden on institutions, he said.
Speaking to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' standards and quality group, Mr Randall said that QAA-appointed reviewers could observe how institutions conduct their quality assurance and report on this to funding councils and the public.
The system would leave external examiners in their traditional role, rather than involving them in external checks for the agency.
Reviewers and stakeholders would also have set minimum standards, descriptions of course objectives and a new national qualifications framework to use as reference points.
David Young, CVCP policy adviser on quality, said the ideas had been well received, but there was still "an awful lot to be sorted out in greater detail".
The QAA said its initial analysis of responses to its original proposals from more than 300 organisations showed broad support for developing a new qualifications framework and codes of practice.
But there were concerns that using external examiners to report directly to the agency could compromise their independence.
Universities and colleges had urged the QAA to approach benchmarking of standards with care to protect diversity in the sector.
The agency's proposals also got support from employers and students. The Confederation of British Industry said the introduction of "templates" spelling out course objectives and what a graduate should know and do was "an important step forward".
The National Union of Students said it supported most recommendations: "We believe that the broad framework suggested will go some way towards improving the quality of provision received by students in higher education."
John Randall writes, page 12