Middlesex University bent its own quality control rules to set up a deal to offer degrees in partnership with the professional accountancy body, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
Under Middlesex's arrangement, any ACCA-qualified accountant is automatically awarded 300 credits towards the 360-credit degree in accounting. On payment of Pounds 1,500, ACCA-qualified accounting technicians can obtain a full Middlesex degree by completing the remaining 60 credits through a three-part distance-learning course, under credit accumulation and transfer arrangements.
But the university regulations state that no more than two-thirds of the credits required for a Middlesex degree can be brought in from outside. At least a third must be delivered direct by Middlesex.
The ACCA deal means that only a sixth is delivered by Middlesex. The university admitted to The THES that the arrangement is "outwith the university's regulations". A spokeswoman said that an exception had been made.
The academic planning committee "required that a case (for the deal) be made" to the academic board. The spokeswoman said the board accepted the deal "on an exceptional basis". She said: "Any exceptions to the university's regulations go through the same route and cases have to be duly substantiated, as they were in this case."
The university has confirmed that it has no role in the quality control, curriculum design or content of the ACCA courses. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has no check on the ACCA syllabus, examination or teaching methods.
Middlesex maintains that it is in line with "every other United Kingdom university" in "acknowledging/accepting the quality of (the ACCA) programme by accepting their students into postgraduate programmes". However, some universities do not accept ACCA qualifications at face value.
Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at Essex University, said: "We do not automatically accept their qualifications. ACCA graduates tend not to have an awareness of academic theory and are unlikely to have read anything other than official accounting stuff."
A submission from the ACCA to the Canadian International Qualifications Appraisal Board (IQAB) for formal recognition of ACCA qualifications was rejected earlier this year. The IQAB said that "higher level cognitive skills are not tested adequately" by the ACCA and the majority of ACCA members do not possess degrees.
Further details of the programme have caused controversy. When the distance-learning programme began in 1997-98 with only 19 students, Middlesex decided to outsource administration.
A company called Distance Learning Administration Associates was hired to do administration and distribute course materials. Students were told to send coursework to a Post Office box number, registered to Middlesex University Business School, at a small business centre in Harrow.
The university declined to reveal how much has been spent on the programme, but it is understood that costs - including payments to DLAA - outweighed fee income of about Pounds 36,000. The outsourcing has now been scrapped. "The relatively small number of students made it uneconomical," said the spokeswoman. She declined to answer the following questions:
For how long has the ACCA students' distance learning course had an external examiner?
Were staff being offered additional payments, on top of their usual salaries, for teaching and curriculum design work for the programmes?
Geoffrey Alderman, pro vice-chancellor responsible for quality at Middlesex University, declined to comment.
Want to blow the whistle?
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No ACCA deal letter
You claimed that Middlesex University “set up a deal to offer degrees in partnership with … the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants” (Whistleblowers, THES, October 22). I would like to make it clear that there is no formal or contractual “deal” between ACCA and Middlesex University. Most universities credit-rate professional accountancy qualifications and at ACCA we welcome such arrangements since this assists in the transferability of qualifications. The inclusion by Middlesex University of ACCA’s examinations as part of its accountancy degree programme is, thus, one of a number of similar such recognitions.
The proposed link between Oxford Brookes and ACCA is, however, a formal partnership. In this unique arrangement, a global professional accountancy body and a major UK university are working together to offer a jointly designed programme of study and assessment that will satisfy the requirements for both an accounting degree and the majority of the professional qualification. This initiative will widen access to degree education and will protect academic standards through rigorous quality controls.
Developments like this embody ACCA’s innovative approach to education and training. ACCA is the only UK accountancy body to have an examination stream based on international accounting standards. It is the only professional accountancy body that has its own technician qualification and it is leading the field in the use of computer-based examinations.
Worldwide ACCA has 250,000 members and students. It is working to ensure that UK education meets the needs of the 21st century global knowledge economy. This will require ACCA to be innovative, to offer high quality relevant qualifications and to make them available worldwide. We are keen to work with education providers who share our mission to widen access, to work internationally, and to deliver study programmes effectively and efficiently.
Anthea Rose Chief executive ACCA, London WC.