The University of Abertay Dundee awarded honours degrees to students after a one-year programme designed and delivered by a Greek partner college "without any involvement of either an external examiner or a member of the university's academic staff", the Quality Assurance Agency has reported. The university also failed to monitor the entry qualifications of students on the Greek programmes, the QAA said.
After The THES 's report last month that the QAA had ordered Abertay to undertake "urgent, necessary" action to assure its degree standards in the wake of a UK-based audit, a second QAA audit report has seriously criticised the university's control of standards on degrees awarded in its name by its Greek partner, North College in Thessaloniki. The report concludes that there can be only "limited grounds for confidence" in the university's stewardship of quality and standards on the programmes provided.
Abertay validates honours degree programmes designed and provided by North College. The QAA was particularly concerned by the award of degrees for an art and design course. "The team concluded that the degree had been awarded after one year of study on a university-approved programme and only six months after validation had been confirmed. No member of the university and no external examiner had been present at the relevant college examination board."
The university spokesman told The THES that only four students had been allowed to study on the course for just one year because they had been granted "entry with advanced standing", in line with regulations for the accreditation of prior learning. The university said external examiners had been appointed "in the proper manner" but "unfortunately, due to an administrative oversight, the appointment date did not allow for the fact that four students on one course had been granted advanced entry and would therefore be graduating before the external examiner's start date".
The QAA report also said that Abertay had failed to "monitor whether or not its admissions requirements are met" and had not met a number of "expectations of the QAA's code of practice".
The audit team said that there was "serious doubt as to the integrity of the university's external examiner system". Abertay had appointed only Greek examiners - one of whom had been a North College employee - and none had "experience of teaching and examining in the UK".
The university spokesman said that all its Greek-based externals had been educated in the UK or the US and all had a strong understanding of the nature of a university degree. "However, we have now conformed to the QAA stipulation regarding external examiners, and all ours are now UK-based."
He said: "The report commends Abertay for the 'thoroughness' of its initial validation procedures and also praises the university for a number of things, notably 'its approach to programme approval and review, its commitment to staff development, and the strong sense of institutional partnership created, (which) have been impressive'.
"The link is a small one in the context of our general overseas operations and covers, at most, 50 students on four courses."