QUALITY. A quality breakthrough finally came in September of this year when vice chancellors won the three-year battle with the funding councils for control of the quality assurance process in universities.
At the end of last year Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, called on the Higher Education Funding Council for England to draw up proposals bringing its own process of assessment and the Higher Education Quality Council's audit process together.
In April, this led to a highly public and bitter exchange at HEFCE's annual conference, when vice chancellors insisted that they be properly consulted before the funding council submitted any proposals for a single body to Mrs Shephard. A weary Tim Boswell, then further and higher education minister, expressed his disappointment that "some of the best minds in the land" had not found a solution, and that the separate processes might have to continue.
In the end the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals submitted its own proposals and they were largely accepted in September when Mrs Shephard wrote: "I believe that the proposals do form the basis for an agreed solution."
In November, Sir William Fraser, former vice chancellor of Glasgow University, was named as head of the joint planning group that will seek to establish a single body for quality. The group will hold its first meeting in January 1996, with a view to establishing a new body by January 1997.
In the same month the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on the first three years of its assessment exercise that showed that large departments, in wealthy universities with a strong research base, were far more likely to be awarded an "excellent" for their teaching. The council has since abandoned the gradings of "excellent", "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory", but strong research universities are still coming out on top under the new points system.
The council has decided to reward excellence with cash. Whatever new system is decided on by the joint planning group, it will be watched closely by many in the former polytechnic sector, who will lose out in any system that continues to favour the old universities and rewards them with more money.