Staffing and marking on Bolton business courses ‘concern’ OfS

English regulator expresses concern about staffing levels and academic misconduct protections on business and management courses

September 12, 2023
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England’s higher education regulator has published the results of its first investigations at institutions, focused on the quality of business and management courses at two universities, finding “areas of concern” at the University of Bolton.

The Office for Students’ assessment visits, led by “independent academic experts”, found “no areas of concern” at London South Bank University.

The OfS said it would “now consider whether any regulatory action is appropriate” in relation to Bolton.

The investigations were among eight announced by the OfS in May 2022, after a letter from ministers said they “would expect a significant number of investigations to be initiated” at larger universities falling short of the regulator’s new B3 quality baselines, which cover student continuation and completion, and graduate progression to “professional employment”.

In “concern 1”, out of a total of four, on Bolton’s courses, the OfS report says: “The assessment team found that academic staff resource could be overly stretched, which had an impact on some aspects of academic support, meaning that academic support was in some cases not sufficient for the cohort of students. However, it was acknowledged that academic support is multifaceted and that existing plans and initiatives have the potential to address the issues identified.

“This concern is considered under condition of registration B2 because this condition relates to students receiving sufficient academic resources and support,” it adds – with all other concerns also judged to be under the B2 condition covering resources and support, rather than the B3 quality condition.

Another concern was that “the assessment team found that support for avoiding potential academic misconduct was not consistently provided in assessment feedback via the online assessment platform at Level 4, although it was more consistently evident at Levels 5 and 6”.

The assessment team also “found that the format for providing formative feedback on assessments may not have been sufficient for some students across a number of modules reviewed”.

The OfS report also says that “students taking a foundation year received positive support to progress, reflected in good rates of progression into year one of their course. However, student success in subsequent years of study was lower.”

Bolton has been approached for comment.

Susan Lapworth, the OfS chief executive, said: “Students from all backgrounds are entitled to study on high-quality courses that equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed after graduation. Ensuring this is the case is a central element of the OfS’ strategy.

“Publication of these first assessment reports is an important milestone in the OfS’ regulation of quality in higher education. The reports have two purposes. First, they will drive improvement in individual institutions where assessment teams have found concerns. Second, they will prompt all universities and colleges to consider the quality of their courses, and to take action to make any necessary improvements ahead of potential regulatory intervention.

“We are grateful to the academic colleagues from across the sector who have provided us with their valuable time and expert advice. We will now carefully consider their findings as we decide whether any further regulatory action is appropriate in individual cases.

“We expect to publish the findings of further assessment visits in the coming weeks.”

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