Whistleblowers: Manager 'rewrote history' for QAA bid

January 9, 2004

A senior academic manager who doctored evidence presented to the quality watchdog to boost her former college's successful bid for degree-awarding powers is set to play a role in a similar bid for her new institution.

An investigation by The THES found that when she was head of quality assurance at Liverpool Hope College, Liz Royle amended a paper sent to auditors at the Quality Assurance Agency in November 2000.

She gave the paper an invented heading to give the false impression that it had been discussed by a meeting of department heads months before the document was written, to help meet the QAA's request for evidence that academic developments at the college were properly planned and discussed.

After a member of staff complained, Liverpool Hope's then principal, Simon Lee, condemned the action and immediately withdrew the document from the bundle sent to the QAA.

Ms Royle is now senior assistant registrar at the North East Wales Institute in Wrexham, which is preparing a bid for its own degree-awarding powers.

A spokeswoman for Newi said this week that Ms Royle would play a full role in the institute's forthcoming bid for degree-awarding powers "unless and until the allegations printed in The THES are proved".

Papers obtained by The THES show that in November 2000 Ms Royle invited colleagues at Liverpool Hope to produce documents requested by the QAA relating to the establishment of a new degree in cultural studies. She asked: "Is there a record of anything... about how this degree originated?"

Later the same day, she said in another email: "I've pulled off a nice statement that [the course leader] Steve [Devereux] did in the [final validation] document. This could conceivably [have] gone to a heads meeting last year - couldn't it?... When would it have gone?"

Ms Royle gave a new heading - "Discussion paper for heads" - to an introductory section of the course's final validation document, which would have dated it several months earlier than it was written.

But Mr Devereux strongly objected in an email to Ms Royle: "As to inventing documents - if [you] wish to indulge in the Stalinist practice of rewriting history that is up to you, but I won't be colluding in it."

Ms Royle replied: "You are quite right, of course. I consider myself slapped down."

Mr Devereux complained to Professor Lee that he had been "invited to participate in the fabrication of retrospective documentation intended to enhance the college's bid for degree-awarding powers".

Professor Lee accepted that there had been an "error" in the documentation sent to the QAA. "The best we could do yesterday was to include my understanding of the true position in our fax to the QAA," he said.

In the fax, the college said that the document was a "draft which was corrected but you appear to have been sent the uncorrected proof by mistake".

A spokeswoman for Liverpool Hope told The THES this week: "Liverpool Hope as an institution acted entirely properly and informed the QAA before its visit that a document had been incorrectly headed by the then head of quality assurance.

"It would be ludicrous to infer that the granting of such powers was in any way tainted by an incorrect heading on one piece of paper, the more so as the college itself pointed this mistake out to the QAA in good time and submitted a correct version."

Ms Royle said: "The construction of the audit trails for degree-awarding powers for Hope was undertaken with absolute fastidiousness and propriety.

The process was transparent and thorough.

"A full and accurate account of the events, rather than the partial and selective items you quote, will demonstrate this without any ambiguity.

That full account shows that the quotes you have selected present a picture that is a blatant and mischievous distortion of the facts. I will not dignify your correspondence by defending myself when there is absolutely nothing to defend."

The spokeswoman for Newi said: "Liz Royle came to Newi with excellent references and an outstanding reputation. We were delighted to welcome her to the institute and we continue to have full confidence in her and her professional integrity.

"The present moratorium on applications for degree-awarding powers means that Newi is not at present in the process of applying for [them]. However, once the moratorium is lifted, Newi is expected to submit an application.

Unless and until the allegations printed in The THES are proved, Liz Royle will play, alongside all Newi staff, a role in that process." She declined an invitation to view the documents.

A spokesman for the QAA said the decision to grant degree-awarding powers to Liverpool Hope two years ago, "did not hinge on the approval procedures for the cultural studies course".

But he added: "Any attempt to mislead assessors in a degree-awarding power scrutiny would be a serious matter... we would expect [Hope] to review very carefully what happened in the case of the cultural studies documentation, learn from it and, if appropriate, take action."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We are confident that the process for granting an institution degree-awarding powers is fundamentally robust."

Want to blow the whistle?
Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298
or email him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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