The teaching quality assessment system (TQA) was designed to increase rigour when it was set up in 1995. It was to widen the net to catch failing courses, and to provide a clear early warning signal of problems, so improvement strategies could be quickly implemented.
The system replaced a relatively crude model in which courses were simply judged on a three-word grading scale - excellent, satisfactory and unsatisfactory.
More institutions were expected to fall foul of new procedures, but the opposite happened.
On paper, the current system looks rigorous and detailed. Each course is given a grade in each of six "aspects of provision". These six all-embracing aspects are: curriculum design, content and organisation; teaching learning and assessment; student progression and achievement; student support and guidance; learning resources; and quality management and enhancement.
Each of the six aspects is given a grade from one to four. A grade one represents failure - "there are major shortcomings that must be rectified". A grade two indicates that "significant improvement could be made", and a grade three signifies "scope for improvement". The top grade, four, represents excellence, where the "aims set by the subject provider are met".
Just a single grade one in any of the six areas will represent a failure - "quality not approved". A supposedly perfect course will gain an aggregate grade of 24 (grade four in each of six aspects). But in an extreme case, even a 21 out of 24 score could lead to failure (with five grade fours, and one grade one). Universities are given just one year to pass a reinspection, before sanctions are imposed. Institutions appear to have many hurdles to jump before quality is approved, but only a tiny fraction fail.