Unqualified success

March 10, 2000

The enrolment of under-qualified students to Derby University's degree courses in Israel was systematic and widespread, new evidence reveals.

The THES reported in June last year that, in order to meet financial targets, students had been admitted to business degree courses without the minimum entry requirements agreed between the Derby Business School (DBS) and the Israeli regulating authorities. Documents show that a DBS dean warned in 1998 that more than half of the 1997 intake lacked the "essential entry qualification" and he condemned the situation as "truly dangerous".

But senior Derby managers vetoed staff concerns and large numbers of unqualified students were allowed on the courses, provided by franchise partner, Inter College.

The documents also show that at least one unqualified student gained a degree in just 12 months and a group of students, dubbed "the phantom cohort" by DBS staff, were enrolled on a course that had not been approved by the Israeli regulating authority, the Higher Education Council.

Following an audit of the first entrants in 1997, DBS's then dean of international development and operations, Michael Wilkinson, wrote to DBS director Tony FitSimons in September 1998 warning him of "serious problems".

"The report demonstrates that a number of students considered at the July 1998 Assessment Board for the award of a top-up degree [just a year after entry] do not possess the required antecedent certificated learning achievements demanded at entry to the course," he said. "Strict adherence to the entry regulations means that none of those concerned could be graduated at the July 1998 Assessment Board."

But one of these students, who had no prior formal qualifications at all, was given his degree. Despite the HND-level entry requirement, this mature student was deemed to have relevant management experience, Derby has confirmed.

Mr Wilkinson was also alarmed that 55 per cent of the three-year degree cohort was enrolled without the Israeli matriculation certificate, the Bagrut, the entry requirement agreed with the Israeli authorities.

"The absence of this essential entry qualification may be more widespread and is potentially far more damaging than the 'top-up' entry problem. If this is shown to be so, we face a truly dangerous situation," Mr Wilkinson said, adding that it was "particularly disturbing" that there appeared to be no plans to solve the "serious problems".

DBS staff concerns were overriden by

senior Derby managers, who continued to sanction the mass recruitment of students without the Bagrut - to meet financial targets - by rountinely basing admission on the "accreditation of prior learning" of mature student entrants. Such non-standard entry was originally planned to be on an exceptional basis and explicitly agreed by DBS, but it had become widespread.

A further document highlights the "rumours of a phantom cohort". Written by two DBS managers, it expressed the school's concerns that a cohort of students were enrolled in June 1997 on a three-year degree that had not had HEC approval.

But while Inter College originally assured DBS that "no students had been enrolled" and the concerns were "unfounded" it later emerged that students had been enrolled, and "the rumours of a phantom cohort have therefore at last been confirmed".

Derby University is facing employment tribunal proceedings under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, brought by a member of staff made redundant after internally raising the alarm about the operations in Israel. A spokesperson said that "it is not appropriate for the university to comment further on matters that are the subject to litigation".

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