Scrutiny agency bullishly defended

April 21, 2000

The universities' quality watchdog has mounted a robust defence of the Quality Assurance Agency, telling MPs that the agency's critics are mostly "elitists", writes Phil Baty.

In a pre-emptive strike against expected criticism by the House

of Commons' education select committee, QAA chief executive John Randall submitted a bullish defence of the QAA to the committee's review of higher education.

He told the committee: "It would be naive to expect that external scrutiny of academic activities would be welcomed universally by those subject to it." But he added that such scrutiny is necessary for the accountability of public funds and helps to improve quality.

The QAA accepted the "valid criticism" that the current teaching quality assessment is too bureaucratic, following reports from universities that submitting to a single teaching quality assessment visit could cost each university department Pounds 250,000.

Under systems that the agency inherited from its predecessor, "information has to be assembled artificially and for no other purpose," the QAA said.

But the QAA insisted that the new "integrated" system, which comes into effect in 2001, will reduce bureaucratic burdens.

Review visits will be spread over time and QAA reviewers will deal with naturally arising rather than artificially assembled evidence, timing their visits to coincide with institutions' own internal reviews.

Other criticisms, the QAA said, "are less valid". Some critics couch their criticisms "in the language of concern about bureaucracy, but in reality, they are objecting to the principle of any external scrutiny".

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