TVU mixed ability classes 'a threat to standards'

December 19, 1997

STAFF representatives at troubled Thames Valley University have questioned the findings of a quality report amid claims that mixed-ability classes involving diploma and degree students are threatening undergraduate standards.

Lecturers' union Natfhe says that the report by the Quality Assurance Agency fails to address central issues surrounding claims about degree standards. The university called in the agency after an allegation that there had been a deliberate "dumbing down" of standards. The QAA found no evidence of this.

A Natfhe spokesman said that the QAA failed to question the effects of introducing a new learning environment earlier this year. The union says this has forced lecturers to teach undergraduates and higher education diploma students in the same classes. It has also cut the numbers of modules required for degrees from four to three per semester, and limited essays to a maximum 1,500 words.

The QAA's preliminary report says that, while teaching is good and learning effective in many areas, there is "serious administrative weakness" at the university. It also says that some weaker students may have fallen below expected graduate standards.

Industrial relations problems are blamed for compounding the difficulties.

The QAA is to carry out a full review of external examiners' reports made in the past year and of the university's responses to these and then conduct a full review of the systems used by the university to assure standards.

Andrew Ward, head of TVU's corporate communications, said diploma and degree students were in the same lessons but there were modules for students with particular difficulties. Students were being encouraged to take greater responsibility for their learning.

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