Your editorial of April 17, 1998 about the approach of the QAA states that "there is little evidence that the academic community at large shares Sir Stewart Sutherland's anger at what is being done". In fact there is widespread concern in the sector. As Sir Stewart says, it is undoubtedly possible to interpret the proposals as prescriptive and bureaucratic, as the first steps towards a national curriculum, and as an attack on the autonomy of academic institutions. We do not greet what you describe as the "regulatory juggernaut" with any enthusiasm, and it is hard to see it as a "lighter touch".
We are grateful to you for drawing attention to the inherent dangers of state control, and to the importance of a diverse higher education sector to underpin what you describe as a "United States-style economy", as opposed to a standard product. Nevertheless, recognising the political imperative to inform stakeholders, we wish to react positively to the QAA's invitation to be involved in devising a more satisfactory system than that which they propose.
We recognise that the QAA is endeavouring to respond to the agenda set by Dearing, and needs help to identify the difficulties of taking it forward without substantial refinement. We would encourage the QAA to take to heart its own reassurances about encouraging diversity, enhancing quality and utilising the quality assurance mechanisms that are already built into institutions, and for which senates take responsibility.
We suggest that educational outcomes are more important than elaborate systems of checking. The danger is that the QAA package as proposed in the consultative document will generate box-ticking behaviour, rather than a genuine contribution to the enhancement and diversity of provision. It must be modified.
Maxwell Irvine Vice-chancellor and principal University of Birmingham