THE QUALITY Assurance Agency has given its plans for checking standards in higher education a second overhaul.
A confidential internal paper leaked to The THES reveals how the agency is treading a thin line between giving more responsibility for quality assurance to institutions and satisfying funding bodies that standards are safeguarded.
Assessment of the quality of teaching and learning should be handled by institutions themselves, the agency has concluded.
The agency is preparing to abandon the idea of a register of external examiners monitoring course standards. Instead, practising academics could be appointed as "reviewers" to report on each subject covered in an institution at least once every five years.
The QAA is not going to set a common national timetable for reporting on each subject area but will allow each institution to produce its own. The agency will appoint reviewers in line with this.
To maintain public confidence, reviewers would "sample" a small group of subject areas and institutions would make their assessment reports available for inspection.
If concerns about quality were identified, funding councils would commission the agency to conduct more detailed subject reviews.
The agency is planning to instruct subject groups working on guidelines for minimum standards in chemistry, history and law to focus on intellectual attributes "to avoid the risk of seeming to dictate a curriculum", the paper says.
The groups may be asked to set benchmarks at a level that would be achieved or exceeded by 90 per cent of graduates, rather than setting a simple pass/fail borderline.
A second set of groups will soon start work, including at least one interdisciplinary subject, such as business studies. The agency also wants experts to advise on setting multidisciplinary standards.