ELITE universities with an excellent track record will get an easier ride from quality watchdogs than other institutions, it was revealed this week by the Quality Assurance Agency for higher education.
John Randall, chief executive of the agency, said he was prepared to treat institutions such as Cambridge University with a "lighter touch" under the new quality monitoring arrangements. And those colleges that have shown in QAA audits that they have sound, quality ass-urance arrangements at an institutional level, will not need to have their courses scrutinised as closely.
"Equally, the kind of attention we need to give at the institutional level is reduced if it appears the institution is performing well at the programme level," Mr Randall said. Institutions that are known by the QAA to have sound quality assurance systems in place should therefore escape some of the more heavy-handed and bureaucratic quality checks of the old system, he suggested.
Mr Randall was responding to calls from Alec Broers, vice chancellor of Cambridge University, for the new quality system to take into account the record of an institution in determining the extent of the quality assessment process.
"We advocate that institutions with a record of high quality be treated with a lighter touch than those with poor records," Professor Broers said in his annual speech earlier this month.
Cambridge refused to take part in so-called "continuation audits" set up under the former Higher Education Quality Council to check up on institutions that have not been audited for more than four years. The university argued that such audits amounted to a waste of time since they did not form a part of the agency's new system.
Mr Randall said he was looking forward to a "constructive dialogue" with Professor Broers on this issue and about arrangements under the new system. The QAA was planning to quickly put together a working model of the new system that could be piloted, he added.
"There are lessons to be learned from the way in which quality assessments were introduced. We have resolved to consult and to carry the sector with us."