Union role at Derby

September 1, 2000

Geoffrey Alderman needs to get his facts straight before criticising the Quality Assurance Agency's investigation into franchising standards at the University of Derby (Letters, THES, August 25).

Had Mr Alderman been following the story in The THES, he would be aware that the QAA was asked to investigate only after lecturers' union Natfhe's repeated attempts to persuade the university to launch an internal investigation went unanswered.

Contrary to Mr Alderman's assertion, the university's franchising arrangements have not been "given a pretty clean bill of health" by the QAA investigation.

The investigation highlighted "weak practice" in a range of areas, particularly relating to the management of admissions in 1997 and 1998.

The QAA also raised concerns that franchising programmes were established "without sufficient care and prudence and until 1998 managed in a way which did not secure the quality and standards of the programmes and associated degrees".

We hope that since 1998 quality and standards have improved. Natfhe's role in the investigation has been welcomed by secretary of state for education, David Blunkett. It is absolutely clear that without our efforts these concerns would not have been fully investigated.

The matter is not ended however. Only days after publication of the QAA report, in what will be seen as straight-forward victimisation, the university announced that it intended to sack the person who complained internally to his line manager about possible malpractice in the franchising arrangements.

Until this unfortunate turn of events, Natfhe had been looking forward to working together with the university to improve quality assurance procedures and the university's industrial relations climate.

The dismissal of someone raising legitimate concerns is a disastrous move for future partnership. All the union's efforts will now be focused on persuading the university to think again at appeal. One final point, the QAA, far from being a government agent in the investigation, was invited by the university to investigate allegations of mismanagement, not told to by the government.

Tom Wilson

Head of universities department Natfhe

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