Scottish watchdog puts its faith in trust

August 9, 2002

The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is abandoning the traditional watchdog approach to quality assurance for a new "quality enhancement" scheme to begin in 2003.

Scotland's approach is effectively based on trust, encouraging institutions to consider how they can improve, however good they are. Unlike the prospective system south of the border, subject reviews will disappear, with no "drilling down" to investigate individual subjects in a four-year cycle of institutional audits. Only Bell College and the UHI Millennium Institute, which recently became a higher education institution, will undergo traditional assessments for a limited period. Shefc expects the other universities and colleges to develop their internal processes for subject reviews and quality assurance.

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said academics would be "jumping for joy" as the bureaucratic burden was lifted from them. Students will be represented on every audit team. A key theme will be how institutions treat students. A spokesperson for the National Union of Students Scotland said:

"We are now looking at a system which will have a clear role for student representatives at higher levels and that can only be a good thing. If there isn't going to be drilling down into subject reviews, it's going to be crucially important that it involves a student perspective because, after all, students are the customers."

Shefc has drawn up the scheme in collaboration with Universities Scotland and the Quality Assurance Agency, following widespread consultation. Its quality working group will now thrash out the detail, with the QAA expected to publish details in December of how institutions will be audited. The QAA has delegated responsibility for the work to its Scottish committee and office.

Shefc's chief executive Roger McClure said: "I am confident that Scottish higher education institutions recognise their responsibilities to ensure the best possible courses for students. I am pleased that the focus is now on quality enhancement... I wish to emphasise the council's commitment to continued collaboration on this issue."

But the Association of University Teachers Scotland has attacked Shefc for excluding academic staff from the quality working group. Research officer Tony Axon said: "We are very happy with the way Shefc has gone in a different direction from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, but it does seem that some of the decisions are going to be made behind closed doors."

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