Vice chancellors are so unhappy with the Higher Education Funding Council's proposals for a new quality assurance system that they have written to the council and to the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, saying that they are unlikely to support them.
She will now be faced with the choice between an externally-driven assessment-based system and an internally-driven audit-based system. Should she choose the former she will have to impose it on universities, which have made their opposition to it clear, in the run-up to the next election.
In the letter to Mrs Shephard, Kenneth Edwards, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, says: "The proposals which HEFCE may put to you in the next month or so may well be in a form which CVCP would not regard as satisfactory, and which they would not feel able to support. In these circumstances I would want to write to you putting forward alternative proposals for an integrated quality assurance system."
In a letter to Graeme Davies, chief executive of HEFCE, he says: "I have to say there was considerable disappointment at the overall thrust of the HEFCE paper."
The funding council had outlined seven possible options for a future quality assurance system. Only Option Four came anywhere near to satisfying the CVCP but was dismissed in the paper by HEFCE.
Dr Edwards says in his letter to the funding council: "The commentary reveals the extent to which your paper needs to be informed by our ideas. It continues to be a matter of regret that our input has not been requested and that, for the second time in our discussions, CVCP has been confronted with a request to respond to a draft in a matter of only three or four days."
The proposals that the CVCP will put forward instead are likely to be based on a consultative document being produced by the Higher Education Quality Council, that spells out proposals for the second round of quality audit.
These would include an institutional "self-study" that would focus on teaching and learning, academic standards, staff and communications. Auditors would check these studies and take into consideration assessments carried out for external bodies such as the funding council. In its discussion document the funding council dismisses an audit-driven system because it would compromise public accountability, confidence in public information and any future link with funding.