Subject review is off QAA agenda

December 21, 2001



Quality assurance chiefs have abandoned plans to routinely "drill down" into university departments for subject-level inspections in the new quality regime.

The Quality Assurance Agency has listened to complaints from vice-chancellors that the proposals for a "light-touch" quality assurance regime leave too much room for the continuation of subject reviews by another name. It was planned that during institution-wide audits of quality-assurance systems, subject specialists would inspect at least 10 per cent of each university's teaching.

But it is understood that in a draft operational model by QAA acting chief executive Peter Williams, the plan has been dropped and audit teams are unlikely to include subject specialists. There will be subject-level inspections only in universities found to have quality shortcomings.

The QAA has met the Higher Education Funding Council for England to finalise the plan.

A QAA account of the responses to the consultation on the regime reveals concerns from vice-chancellors about the extent of subject-level assessment.

"There was general unease - both in principle and in practice - about the number and range of external subject-level processes within what was presented as a method based on institutional audit," the report says. "The fact that audit teams would include subject specialists confirmed many institutions' concerns about confusion of purpose."

Mr Williams was keen to meet institutions objectives. He said: "We have made a lot of progress in recent weeks.

"There are one or two areas that remain to be resolved, particularly on how audit trails can avoid being misinterpreted as subject review by another name, and as soon as this is done, the QAA will publish its proposals and be asking for views on them".

In return for the concessions on subject reviews, students will be made a more central part of the new regime. As well as the publication of student feedback surveys, students are likely to be brought into consultations on the scope and focus of audits.

This new student focus is likely to be an area, pushed by ministers, that will not please the universities.

The QAA's feedback report says: "Many (institutions) had reservations about the suggestion that summaries of the results of internal processes - for example, student feedback reports and external examiners' reports - might be published; they see this as potentially comprising the rigour and candour of those processes."


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