Staffordshire University cannot be fully confident about the education provided in its name under overseas partnerships, quality watchdogs have warned in a report published this week.
A Quality Assurance Agency audit of Staffordshire's franchise partnership with the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland, found that academic standards were being safeguarded more by chance than by design.
The franchise, in which the DIT provides two postgraduate programmes leading to a Staffordshire University MSc in computing, emerged in 1995 through years of less formal links between schools and staff in the two institutions. The DIT has recently obtained powers to award taught masters' degreees and the MSc will in future be offered jointly by the DIT and Staffordshire.
Standards were being upheld through the professionalism of individuals and "the shared determination of the two staff teams to safeguard and enhance the quality of the educational provision".
But it was regrettable that the formal structures could not provide a proper university-wide safeguard, the audit report said.
The university's "commentary" on its quality assurance systems, which was supposed to represent its approach to all its overseas collaborative activity, "did not offer a view of the strengths or limitations of the university's academic quality assurance arrangements".
The auditors said arrangements for monitoring student admissions, curriculum development, approving new staff and monitoring the content of promotional materials all "require attention".
"The university needs to recognise that at present the academic well-being of the franchised routes depends upon the professionalism of the staff directly involved in their delivery... rather than its general academic quality assurance arrangements," the QAA said.
"The information provided by the university indicates that it can have only limited confidence in its capacity to know what is being done in its name by its schools in the matter of collaborative provision."
Staffordshire responded that it had already begun to reform its systems since the audit, which took place in April 1999. It had created a new post, director of quality improvement, in September 1999.