UCL ends stand-off with QAA reviewers

June 9, 2000

University College London has stopped its boycott of the Quality Assurance Agency following a meeting with the agency's chief executive, John Randall.

UCL vice-provost Michael Worton confirmed this week that the prospect of a "light touch" by the QAA's academic reviewers had persuaded UCL to abandon its once strident opposition.

Under the QAA's framework, a light-touch approach can be negotiated between the QAA and individual institutions, based on an unpublished institutional profile. This will allow the QAA to concentrate resources on problem institutions and reduce the bureaucratic burden on others.

Professor Worton said: "John Randall indicated that the QAA would do all it could to move to lighter touch where needed... I would be very surprised if UCL did not get a light touch."

The QAA's new quality framework is based on a much greater use of institutions' internal quality assurance mechanisms, with the QAA timing its visits to coincide with institutional events.

Initially, UCL was not convinced that the system would be any less interventionist, nor that it would genuinely reduce bureaucracy.

"We are now saying that we think we can live with the framework if it can genuinely be linked to our internal system," Professor Worton said.

"We are talking to the QAA on the understanding that we have a new internal audit system, and if they use that as the basis there will be significant savings."

UCL took a tough public stance earlier this year. In a university newsletter, Professor Worton said that UCL was "preparing for war" with the QAA. He said UCL believed the framework was "fatally flawed" and had been introduced "without any real consultation".

Provost Chris Llewellyn Smith wrote to the QAA, saying that UCL would "refuse to take part in the process if the proposals remain unchanged".

UCL began talks with other dissident institutions to prepare a joint line of attack. Despite there being many critics of the QAA, there are now no institutions formally opposing the new framework.

Professor Worton said this week that the change of heart was not unconditional.

"We are yet to be fully convinced," he said.

"And John Randall indicated that there are areas of the framework that lack clarity and need to be sorted out."

UCL is concerned to monitor how the subject benchmark statements - spelling out explicit national levels of academic achievement required for degree courses - will be used to judge individual institutions.

It is also concerned about the relationship between the QAA's academic reviewers, who will monitor institutions' internal quality assurance systems, and external examiners, who many believe already fulfil this role.

A spokesman for the QAA said: "John Randall had a positive and constructive discussion with senior people at UCL. UCL features in the QAA forward planning for 2000-01, as do all Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded institutions."

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