Students get a vital quality role

March 28, 2003

Students are playing a key role in Scotland's radical new quality assurance system, which focuses explicitly on meeting their needs.

The streamlined "enhancement-led" system is being implemented by a working group that includes student organisations, Universities Scotland, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and the Quality Assurance Agency in Scotland.

The quality working group said that the emphasis had shifted from bureaucratic compliance to thinking about how to enhance students' experience.

Norman Sharp, head of the QAA in Scotland, said: "This is a shift from backward-looking audit to forward-looking improvement."

The National Union of Students Scotland has also won the tender for a national support service for student representatives, which aims to help them play a more active part in institutions' own reviews.

Rami Okasha, president of NUS Scotland, said: "It means students are actively involved in determining the outcome of their teaching and learning, and that's to be welcomed.

"Often students are the best placed people to know what's happening in terms of quality at class level. But the difficulty is that (they) maybe don't have the experience and training to be involved in something that is often full of jargon and difficult procedures. (They) can be trained a bit more and supported a bit more to be effective."

The new Scottish system will axe external subject reviews and, from autumn, institutions will embark on a six-year cycle of internal subject reviews.

Georgina Follett, convener of the quality working group, said there had been criticisms that the previous quality system overburdened people with unproductive paperwork and militated against innovative teaching since a compliance model stopped people taking risks.

"Whereas this model is, we hope, going to draw out of the sector real innovation, which can only be to everyone's benefit," she said.

Mr Sharp said institutions would have "increased freedom to develop in the particular context of Scotland". But there would still be comparability across the UK through benchmarks and QAA judgements on institutions' ability to maintain standards.

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