Higher education's quality watchdog will slash the number of inspections it carries out each year from several hundred to as few as 30 as it moves into a new phase of its light touch audit regime, writes Phil Baty.
According to its strategic plan for 2006 to 2011, published this week, the Quality Assurance Agency will no longer be "seen primarily as a body that carries out reviews of standards and quality".
It will dramatically reduce its quality assurance review activity after establishing "trust" with UK universities and will diversify to offer consultancy and other services.
QAA chairman Sam Younger and chief executive Peter Williams published a joint statement on the agency's role in its annual report, which was also released this week.
They said: "All our work to secure high standards and improve quality is informed by an acute consciousness that we must not get in the way of the mission of higher education itself - to educate students and make them more knowledgeable, skilful and fulfilled."
In 2004-05, the QAA carried out 45 audits of institutions' quality assurance systems, 41 "academic reviews" of subject-level quality and standards, 58 reviews of the two-year foundation degree courses and 30 major reviews of National Health Service-funded healthcare, as well as a major examination of UK universities' partnerships in the Gulf States.
But the 2006-11 strategic plan says: "High volume review business came to an end with the completion of the transitional programme of reviews and audits in England and Northern Ireland in 2005.
"A core review programme will continue in the period of this plan but on a reduced scale."
The QAA said that now only "between 30 and 40" such reviews would take place, with universities receiving an institution-wide audit once every six years.
The agency concluded in a statement: "This is possible only because higher education institutions now have strong and mature internal quality assurance arrangements in which the public, through the QAA, can have confidence."