The troubled international joint ventures

October 23, 1998

* Southampton Institute

In June 1996, the Higher Education Quality Council published a critical general audit report on Southampton Institute.

The HEQC criticised the institute for withholding from potential overseas partners the fact that it did not hold degree-awarding powers. The audit report also said the institute did not seem to have made it clear to partner institutions in Spain that its degrees were validated by Nottingham Trent University.

The institute had developed validation and quality-assurance procedures for overseas activities that differed "markedly" from collaborative activity in the United Kingdom, the report said.

David Leyland, the institute's former director, took early retirement last September. Under the new principal, Roger Brown, overseas courses have been withdrawn.

* Wigan and Leigh Further Education College

Also in June 1996, the British Council expressed concerns over an ambitious bid by Wigan and Leigh Further Education College to establish a chain of distance-learning outposts in India.

The college had set up a company in New Delhi to build links with Indian private education and training institutions. The company placed advertisements in the Indian press, offering a "golden investment opportunity" for anyone with Pounds 36,000 to spare to help run institutes "anywhere in India". Promotional literature described Wigan and Leigh as "the fifth largest further and higher educational institution in the United Kingdom" and "one of the most reputed colleges in the UK". The British Council expressed concern at the form of advertising and quality controls on "such an ambitious and wide sub-franchising network".

Wigan and Leigh says it is now working closely with the British Council, keeping a watch on established diploma courses ranging from business administration to fashion design.

* Thames Valley University

In September 1996, the HEQC criticised Thames Valley University's handling of open-learning courses overseas.

Some programmes suffered from poor preparation and attention to detail, an HEQC report said. Efforts by the university to expand collaborative arrangements abroad, rapidly led to neglect of validation procedures.

The university ran into difficulties over programmes in Taiwan and was forced to suspend them because results were so poor. It also paid insufficient attention to detail in preparing courses in Bulgaria, the HEQC said.

The university said it was already addressing the problems identified when the audit was carried out.

* Critical HEQC report on collaborative programmes

In December 1996, the HEQC published a report on collaborative programmes in Greece, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain and warned universities and colleges to tighten their controls on quality.

* Swansea Institute of Higher Education

In January 1997, the National Audit Office condemned Swansea Institute of Higher Education for "deficient" arrangements for the management, planning, quality assurance, student registration and control of certificates on overseas courses.

The NAO referred to a funding council report revealing an "unknown stock" of blank certificates held by a Swansea Institute agent in Malaysia.

The funding council's investigations led to the resignation of Swansea's principal, Gerald Stockdale. Under its new head, David Warner, Swansea decided to axe all its courses in Malaysia and Indonesia.

* Strathclyde University

In March 1997, the HEQC called on Strathclyde University to review its translation arrangements abroad after discovering the university had used a non-Greek-speaking external examiner to assess a course taught and appraised in Greek.

Strathclyde said the course has since received a satisfactory quality report.

* Israel

In July 1997, the British Council ordered a probe into the franchising activities of British universities in Israel to quell concerns over quality.

The Israeli government was threatening to impose tough quality controls in an effort to stamp out shoddy standards in collaborative programmes.

* Wolverhampton University

In December 1997, a HEQC report on Wolverhampton University's overseas links complained of a "notable gap" between quality-assurance rules set at home and the reality in partner colleges in Germany and the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, there was no evidence that "substantial matters of concern" about quality raised in an action plan had been considered, and there was "little formal checking" of promotional material. In Germany, formal monitoring arrangements were not operating.

Wolverhamton said the criticised programmes were introduced before quality controls, and all points raised by HEQC were being addressed.

* The Open University

In June 1998, the OU came under fire from the HEQC for its management of overseas partnerships. Each OU faculty had so much freedom to develop links with institutions overseas that there was no way of monitoring standards, an HEQC report said. In one case, a partnership with an institution in Greece was allowed to run for four years without a formal contract.

The OU said it now has "watertight" overseas arrangements.

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