Standard Response: Good tools but you need to show how they work

Universities value the "toolkit" they use to set academic standards, but the kit is doing little to reassure the public, a review has found.

August 12, 2010

The "Academic Infrastructure" is the name given to the reference points that universities use to set, explain and assure course quality.

But the review has found that while the sector values its individual components - which include subject-benchmark statements and programme specifications - their profiles need to be raised among the wider public.

A report published by the Quality Assurance Agency last week, Evaluation of the Academic Infrastructure: Final Report, says there is "much evidence" to support the view that the impact of the toolkit has been "very positive", and there is little appetite for major revisions to the system.

More than half of the 118 respondents to the QAA consultation agree that the Academic Infrastructure provides an adequate basis for comparing standards at the threshold level.

But a minority suggest that it has "constrained innovation in teaching and learning" and in some cases "created a perceived increase in bureaucracy" that had "not always contributed to establishing comparability of threshold standards as well as it might".

Programme specifications are meant to provide students with information about courses, but the evaluation found that they are not serving this purpose and are not considered the most effective way of doing so.

The evidence, also drawn from a series of round-table events attended by 200 academics, suggests that the relationship between the various tools - and to the QAA's audit processes - could be clearer.

It identifies a lack of clarity about the difference between "academic standards" and "academic quality", and what is meant by "threshold" standards. Some argue that the name "Academic Infrastructure" should be dropped.

A consultation on any changes will take place this autumn.

rebecca.attwood @tsleducation.com.

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