Watchdog reissues warning for Wales

January 21, 2005

Education watchdogs have severely criticised the way the University of Wales safeguards its degree standards - reiterating concerns raised by an audit report more than a decade ago.

The Quality Assurance Agency says that it has only "limited confidence" in the university's management of the quality of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards.

This damning verdict has been reached only once before in relation to a university. It has prompted Roger Brown, former chief executive of the QAA's predecessor, the Higher Education Quality Council, to question why so little appears to have changed since auditors for the HEQC came to similar conclusions in 1994.

Mr Brown, who headed the HEQC from 1993 to 1997 and is now principal of Southampton Institute, said the QAA's report raised "considerable and profound issues" about the state of quality assurance at the University of Wales.

He said: "On the basis of this report, it would appear as though not much notice was taken of the previous HEQC report."

One major problem identified by the QAA is that the university lacks a proper channel for student feedback. Staff involvement in quality monitoring was also inadequate.

It says that most of the institution's 70,000-plus undergraduates know very little about the federal organisation of the university and that they are almost completely unrepresented in the way the institution checks quality.

The QAA report says there is no evidence to suggest that any awards achieved by students are in question.

However, auditors saw potential "dangers and missed opportunities" in a light-touch approach by the university that allowed member institutions to develop their own quality assurance procedures.

The report warns that "limited evaluation" by the university of its programmes "meant that it could not be confident in assuring their quality and that it was less able to provide a leading role... in the management of quality".

The report says that auditors found the university had no established method for receiving input from students.

"The entire student population was represented by a single individual fronting an organisation that was almost unknown to the student body," it says.

Academic involvement in quality monitoring was limited, the report adds.

University subject chairs have "no coherent and regular collective opportunity to review academic standards or quality assurance policies or their own potential contributions", the report says.

In a statement, the university said it had agreed an action plan with the QAA to "realign" relationships with its member institutions.

Those with their own degree- awarding powers will be given full responsibility for their quality and standards.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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