A CLOSER link between higher education quality ratings and funding is being considered amid fears of government pressure for a new cash-for-results system.
Quality Assurance Agency heads met with officials from the Higher Education Funding Council for England this week to decide the best way ahead.
The QAA has outlined its plans for a new quality assurance regime, combining and streamlining the old quality audit and teaching quality assessment systems.
But it is aware that it will be selling its services to HEFCE, which in turn will be expected to take account of the requirements of the Department for Education and Employment on monitoring quality and standards.
Both the QAA and HEFCE are trying to decide how to respond to an important line contained in the DFEE's November budget letter to HEFCE, which stated that "the secretary of state expects the council to consider further ways of linking funding for teaching with assessments of quality".
Sources say there is "a very real danger" that the DFEE will press for a continuation of teaching quality assessments, which the QAA is planning to wind up in England by the year 2000.
The QAA is understood to oppose the idea of rewarding departments which achieve or exceed a specific number of teaching quality assessment points, but may explore with the funding council the possibility of rewards for institutions which do well in an institutional quality review.
A number of options for quality/funding links are likely to be included in consultation papers on the new quality system being prepared by the QAA.
Vice chancellors raised concerns about the principle of directly linking quality ratings and funding in their response to the Dearing higher education inquiry report.
A Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals spokeswoman said: "We will have to wait and see the outcome of discussions between the QAA and HEFCE on whether the kind of information HEFCE will need could be provided by the QAA's new system. Our position has been that the current quality assessment system could not provide the right kind of information."