Universal dislike for four-tier system

October 6, 2000

Quality chiefs may be forced back to the drawing board with their qualifications framework after vice-chancellors and employers lined up to criticise it, writes Phil Baty.

Members of the government's foundation degree design group are also worried that the Quality Assurance Agency's framework could jeopardise the new qualification. The framework sets rigid rules on the level and nomenclature of higher education awards. It aims to make it easier for the public to understand the array of qualifications, guarantee minimum standards and provide a firm platform for student progression.

The Standing Conference of Principals, representing the colleges of higher education, said that the framework was a "sadly flawed missed opportunity that will increase confusion and complexity".

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals described the framework as "much nearer to the straitjacket that the QAA expressly wishes to avoid" and has called for more consultation. The final framework was due to be published next month.

Most opposition focuses on the qualification levels imposed by the QAA. It sets four levels of undergraduate qualifications: level one for certificates of higher education; level two for qualifications at HND level; level three for the new foundation degree and the ordinary degree; and level four for honours degrees.

The CVCP said that it "has been unable to discover any support in the sector for the proposed four-level undergraduate hierarchy". Most universities favour three levels for undergraduates.

David Robertson, a leading member of the government's foundation degree design group, a professor of higher education and a pioneer of credit accumulation and transfer, has advocated a three-level approach, with the foundation degree ranking alongside HNDs. Andy Powell, a member of the group and chief executive of the National Training Organisations National Council, said: "From an employer perspective, we are seeking greater clarity."

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