Welsh v-cs lose review battle

October 20, 2006

Vice-chancellors in Wales say that they have been "let down" by the Quality Assurance Agency in their fight against a move to allow the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted to inspect higher education courses.

On Tuesday, the Welsh Assembly approved a motion for the inspection agency Estyn to regulate youth and community provision in universities across Wales.

The decision was made despite strong objections from Higher Education Wales (Hew), the organisation that represents Welsh vice-chancellors.

Hew has argued that allowing Estyn to have inspection powers in higher education could prove to be the "thin end of the wedge" that will open up the prospect of time-consuming Ofsted-style inspections in a number of disciplines where there is an overlap with schools or further education colleges.

And Hew has reacted angrily to what it calls "short-sighted" support for the move by the QAA, which Hew officials say was a key factor in the Assembly's decision to give the controversial motion the green light.

Karen Jones, Hew's policy adviser for learning and teaching, said: "We feel let down by the QAA.

"Normally we work very well with them, but we were very disappointed that they chose to support something that is being opposed by higher education leaders in Wales."

Hew director Amanda Wilkinson said that Welsh universities did not question the need to be accountable for their use of public funds.

But with the QAA already examining youth and community provision, increasing the audit burden still further by adding Estyn inspections was unnecessary and wasteful, she said.

"Universities across Wales are concerned about excessive accountability and regulation that can undermine their ability to fulfil their role and diverts considerable financial resources that could be used for the public good," she said.

In response to a consultation on how the proposal would impact on its responsibilities, the QAA stated that it was broadly content with the proposals.

A spokeswoman said: "It was not the QAA's intention for this to be taken as a statement of support for the proposal.

"The QAA remains neutral on the proposed involvement of Estyn in the inspection of youth service provision.

"However, the QAA is committed to better regulation and working with all interested parties," the spokeswoman added.

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