UCL fears growing state role

November 1, 1996

University College London has threatened to boycott higher education quality assurance proposals amid fears that they will boost state control at the expense of institutions' academic freedom.

UCL has submitted a highly critical response to the draft final report of the Joint Planning Group for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.

The JPG has received more than 100 responses from institutions. Many are critical but none is thought to rival the strength of feeling at UCL.

The UCL document details the college's strong opposition to a number of JPG proposals. It concludes: "Acceptance of the principles in the report, even with modifications at the detailed level, would in due course turn universities into institutions with little real academic freedom at best, and at worst completely dominated by the state."

One of the most serious criticisms is reserved for the suggestion that institutions might submit to external two-yearly subject/programme quality assessments.

The college has said it will "oppose very strongly and vociferously" any such proposals, though it admits that the JPG report is far from clear on the matter.

Vice provost Fred Bullock, who wrote the UCL response, said: "UCL could not accept, under any circumstances, any two-yearly process."

UCL also says that the JPG draft report is too vague on the future of the audit and assessment processes and particularly the implications for institutions' budgets and construction of university league tables.

The college says that, while the JPG report recommends that the processes be brought under a single umbrella organisation, it fails to make absolutely clear whether they would be fully integrated thereby reducing costs.

The UCL response additionally opposes the introduction of the words "comparable" and "standards" in the JPG draft.

It says that any attempt to extend comparability beyond the most basic threshold "will be regarded as a move to reduce all provision to the lowest common denominator and will be strenuously opposed".

Professor Bullock said: "We felt it was necessary as an institution to make as strong a statement as we could. We have no problem with being accountable but it does not seem feasible to construct a system in the way the JPG seems to be suggesting."

UCL's criticisms fly in the face of decisions by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, the Standing Conference of Principals and the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals to back the draft report.

The JPG was set up in January this year and includes members from the CVCP, SCOP, COSHEP and the higher education funding councils for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A spokesman declined to comment on UCL's response but said that all responses to the consultation would be considered by the group before publication of the final report in December.

The group's next meeting is scheduled for November 8.

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