What universities think

June 26, 1998

The Quality Assurance Agency insists that universities responded positively to its original consultation paper. Tony Tysome trawled responses and found little evidence of this.

Oxford said the QAA model would do "little to encourage the pursuit of international standards of excellence or to identify in which institutions such standards were achieved". Instead, Oxford suggested a model based on its own methods. This would mean:

* faculties publishing programme specifications and standards, monitored by the university's central quality assurance bodies

* an eight-year cycle of external faculty/departmental review by committees consisting mainly of external members, including at least one from overseas and relating to international standards of excellence

* annual reports by faculty boards to the general board

* annual external examiner reports, scrutinised by central quality assurance bodies

* external advisory panels, containing "members of the highest eminence in the relevant fields, such as Nobel Prizewinners, leaders of industry etc".

The university says the QAA should encourage groups of similar institutions to monitor quality mutually.

Nottingham Trent University said it is not convinced that the QAA's proposed system will reduce the burden on institutions.

The timetable for introducing the new regime was "too tight" and the proposed system was "flawed" because there will be no evaluation phase before it is enforced. Developing benchmark standards for inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary work is "very difficult and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency".

Staffordshire University said: "The QAA has accepted the Dearing report's recommendations as its agenda, but is it not important to register the extent to which the debate has moved on (eg UFI, The Learning Age, government proposals to support widening participation and address social exclusion)?" It said the proposals could lead to a national curriculum for higher education and the system will not be sufficiently robust to permit a link between quality and funding.

Coventry University found the QAA's proposals "one of heavy-handed intervention that could be "very damaging" and "create an unacceptable trend towards a national curriculum for higher education". Qualifications frameworks tend to "oversimplify complex issues and can mislead users into making unwarranted comparisons and claims for equivalence".

Derby University said: "We cannot see that a coherent and operarable system has yet been outlined. In these circumstances any attempt to link funding to quality on the basis proposed would be dangerous and potentially very unfair."

The university warned against a differentiated approach to quality reviews that would treat some institutions with a "lighter touch", since "this could result in unequal and unfair treatment".

The London School of Economics said: "Universities are subscribers to the QAA, which has a responsibility to them. It is a matter of grave concern that there is neither discussion of the costs involved in implementing these proposals nor of the additional resources to meet them." The number of forms passing from universities to the QAA annually is likely to be at least 60,000, representing the creation of a "major bureaucracy".

The LSE suggested that there was little wrong with the current system of teaching quality assessments. It said: "The processes outlined in the consultation document would be required only if higher education were facing a crisis of standards, which by all the tests applied in the last six years, and by public confidence expressed in applicant numbers, it is not."

The changes proposed repeat the "one clear failure" of quality assessment, in that they continue to view learning and teaching as taking place within single subjects, rather than across subject boundaries.

De Montfort University said the QAA has taken too much for granted in adopting the Dearing agenda for quality assurance and did not offer a real opportunity to discuss the rationale behind the proposed new system. The QAA's proposals fail to acknowledge the impact of modular courses and links with further education in the sector.

They also display "an apparent lack of confidence and underestimation of the maturity and capability of the majority of universities to self-regulate", the university adds.

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