Welsh higher education standards watchdogs are planning to abandon subject assessments in a move to a "lighter-touch" quality-assurance regime, writes Tony Tysome.
Proposals for a quality-assurance system outlined by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales call for the assessment of subject standards to be left to institutions rather than to outside inspectors.
From 2004, teams of trained auditors that need not include any particular subject specialists will concentrate on assessing the rigour and effectiveness of institutional quality assurance and standards systems.
A Hefcw circular explains: "The onus for quality assurance and standards at discipline level would lie with institutional processes, and the responsibility will be placed firmly on each institution to ensure that a self-evaluation culture is embedded across the organisation."
If introduced, the changes would put Wales one step ahead of England in creating a more hands-off approach.
The new English system will retain a fixed element of subject-level assessment, set at 10 per cent of the audit visit.
A Hefcw spokeswoman said Wales was able to drop subject assessments because no schools or departments had been judged unsatisfactory in the past five-year inspection cycle.
But under the proposed regime, auditors in Wales will still be allowed to select a department or discipline at an institution to test an institution's quality-assurance system.
"The purpose of such an investigation would be to test the rigour and effectiveness of quality assurance and standards mechanisms and not to report on the quality of provision in a particular subject area," Hefcw says.
Where problems are identified by auditors, an institution will be subject to a re-audit followed by a "formal course of action" by the funding council if problems persist.
Wales is to join with England in a national student satisfaction survey and may add its own study of employer satisfaction with graduates, the circular says.