Standards trump card offers hope

April 4, 1997

The next government must resolve several tricky quality and standard issues

AS IN OTHER policy areas, the Conservatives are constrained by having been the Government for the past 18 years, inescapably responsible for the status quo.

Their 1992 Further and Higher Education Act formed the starting point of quality provision, by making the funding councils responsible for assessing the quality of publicly-funded higher education. Education secretary Gillian Shephard has also encouraged the creation of the Single Quality Agency.

The shift back towards a preoccupation with standards is likely to suit the Conservatives politically, linking the issue with their traditional rhetoric on standards in schools. Concern over standards in parts of the vastly-expanded university sector is one possible reason why the Conservatives have made less than they might of their achievement in doubling participation rates. Gillian Shephard's predecessor, John Patten, made two key contributions to this issue: * A call for a better definition of what constituted a graduate led to the creation of the HEQC's graduate standards programme

* A moratorium on the elevation of institutions to full university status.

Under Mrs Shephard, the emphasis on standards has merged more closely with debate over the creation of the SQA. The assessor from the Department for Education and Employment argued that the early deliberations of the joint planning group paid too little attention to standards, while Mrs Shephard's guidance to Christopher Kenyon as chairman of the SQA emphasised the importance of their responsibility for standards.

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