The three-year battle for control of the quality assurance process has been won by the universities.
Their victory over the Higher Education Funding Council for England was confirmed last week when Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, wrote to Gareth Roberts, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.
Mrs Shephard received CVCP proposals for a single quality body, coming into operation in the first half of 1997, in late July. She wrote: "I believe that the proposals do form the basis for an agreed solution. "
She has asked for three-monthly progress reports from the group, which will have an independent chair chosen by CVCP and HEFCE in consultation with the Standing Conference of Principals, and wrote that several issues must be taken into account: * The structure and governance of the new agency must protect academic autonomy and allow the funding councils to exercise statutory responsibilities for quality assessment * Current quality audit and assessment progammes will continue until the new agency is ready * Sufficient independence within the assurance process to allow consistency across assessments. Quality assurance based on measures taken by individual institutions, but assessment not allowed to rely mainly on self-regulations.
* Individual subject cycles should not exceed more than two years * The Higher Education Quality Council should continue advising on degree- awarding powers and university titles * Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish government departments and funding bodies to be involved in planning, but without committing to join the new body at this stage.
Professor Roberts said:"I am absolutely delighted that the Secretary of State has accepted our view of how quality assurance should be reorganised." The composition and remit of the joint planning group was among the issues discussed at this week's residential meeting of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals in Belfast.