Sector told to show house is in order

John Denham calls for a faster response to concern over standards, Rebecca Attwood writes

September 18, 2008

Universities Secretary John Denham has called for the Quality Assurance Agency to respond more rapidly when questions are raised about standards in higher education.

In his annual speech to the Universities UK conference, Mr Denham said that concern stemming from "isolated reports" over the summer about the quality of university courses could be "very damaging" to higher education's reputation.

"I ... want to see the QAA in a position where it is able to respond much more proactively and quickly to reports that give rise to such concerns," he said.

"This is the best way to show that the higher education system not only has its house in order, but also can show its house is in order."

Mr Denham also reacted to the furore prompted last week after Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, was quoted in a national newspaper saying that while the university could help promote social mobility, this was not its core mission.

He told the conference: "It has been suggested that universities and, by extension, education, is not an engine for social justice. I have to say I profoundly disagree.

"Education is the most powerful tool we have in achieving social justice. From that recognition, the responsibility arises - not to lower standards - but to seek out, support and nurture talent, wherever it exists."

Mr Denham revealed that recommendations from a series of reviews he has commissioned on the future of the sector, out in October, include a call for universities to radically remodel their curriculum to cater for students studying in non-traditional ways, and an end to the demarcation between part-time and full-time students.

Mr Denham also announced a further series of reviews incorporating views from outside the sector (see below).


Research and technology transfer

John Chisholm, chairman of QinetiQ and the Medical Research Council

Public sector

Tom Russell, head of the London Development Agency's Olympic Legacy Directorate

Online learning

Sir Ron Cooke, former chair of the Joint Information Systems Committee

Arts and culture

Nick Hytner, director of the National Theatre


John Griffith-Jones, joint chairman and UK senior partner of KPMG

Dame Marjorie Scardino, a member of the Prime Minister's Business Council of Britain, and chief executive of Pearson

Anthony Lilley of Magic Lantern, a small business in the creative sector

Student views

The National Student Forum


Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary to the Indian Department for Science and Technology.

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