University and college heads have been asked to make a rapid response to the Government's inquiry into entry requirements for foundation year courses, writes Tony Tysome.
The Higher Education Quality Council, which is preparing a report on academic standards and admissions on foundation courses for Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, was expecting responses by today to a questionnaire issued to higher education institutions last week.
The Education Secretary has asked for a report from HEQC on foundation courses by next Friday, following national press claims that some universities were filling foundation courses with students who had failed their A levels this year.
But Peter Williams, the HEQC's director of quality assurance, said the deadline was too soon and the timing too inconvenient to expect a proper response from institutions struggling with admissions.
In a covering letter issued with the questionnaire, Mr Williams urges heads to do their best, but adds: "This inquiry could not come at a more difficult or inconvenient time for you and your colleagues, and that the timescale involved is unacceptably short."
The HEQC's apparent irritation with the inquiry timetable mirrored feelings within the sector about the whole exercise, and its implications.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals issued a note pointing out that universities have always admitted students without formal qualifications, and that research had shown that such "non-traditional" students fared no worse than students holding A levels.
"There is absolutely no relationship between entry requirements and higher education standards, which are related to output, not input," the note says.
But Mrs Shephard has written of her concern in a letter to the HEQC which states: "There is no indication that the universities concerned had regard to the need to maintain degree standards in considering the admission of students."