Soas to get QAA black mark

June 15, 2007

A prestigious institution is to receive a surprise black mark from the Quality Assurance Agency, The Times Higher has learnt.

The QAA has written to Paul Webley, director and principal of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to inform him of its intention to give the school a "limited confidence" rating in a forthcoming institutional audit report. This was because of the school's management of the "quality of learning opportunities" available to students.

Only five other institutions - Anglia Polytechnic University (now Anglia Ruskin University), Ravensbourne College, Bedfordshire University (now Luton University), and the University of London - have received "limited confidence" judgments from theJQAA since 2004.

Professor Webley, who took up his post last August, said the rating had come as a surprise, but stressed that it did not relate to the quality of teaching at Soas.

He said: "Some people might think this has something to do with quality of teaching. It doesn't - the quality of teaching at Soas is excellent, and the students say so. It is to do with management of quality processes and the notion that when we agree to do something we should do it. The QAA says it has confidence in our academic standards."

Professor Webley said he provisionally agreed with the recommendations made by the QAA in its letter to Soas. However, he said there were areas the school had already identified as needing improvement, and it had already taken action to address these before the letter arrived. An example was the use of management information to inform student progression, he said.

"The recommendations did not come as a surprise because we were already implementing them, but we were surprised with the grading," Professor Webley told The Times Higher .

"We do not underestimate its seriousness, but looking on the bright side, I think it gives us even more sense of purpose to do what we had been doing anyway."

The QAA said it could not comment until its report is published, but according to its handbook, "management of learning opportunities" covers a wide variety of topics, for example, internal and external review, management information, and the involvement of students as partners in quality management.

Professor Webley said not all of these applied to Soas.

The SOAS judgment is the result of a new cycle of institutional audits, which started in 2006-07.

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