Whistleblowers: Westminster told to keep eye on standards

December 14, 2001

The University of Westminster has been warned that it could be compromising academic standards in a drive to fill student places. The Quality Assurance Agency has advised Westminster in an audit report that it should "continue to keep under review" admissions criteria so it can satisfy itself that its entry standards are appropriate "to maintain the academic standards of its awards".

QAA auditors said: "It appears that the focus in monitoring admissions is on checking that the defined recruitment targets have been attained.

"The (audit) team noted comments... of several external examiners suggesting that greater rigour in the university's arrangements for selecting students for particular courses might be worthwhile."

Westminster said it selected students on the basis of their ability to achieve the standards required, and on the basis of equal opportunities, operating a widening-access policy.

But the QAA audit team said the university did not provide it with any direct information on how its admission processes contributed to safeguarding academic standards.

"The university told the audit team that the progression of students in previous sessions was used to test the effectiveness of selection criteria but the team found no indication that progression statistics were being used."

The QAA, which visited the university during the summer, said Westminster had "recently recognised" the need to collate and study statistics on student progression. "This is an important development, which the team encourages the university to take forward, not least so that it can satisfy itself that its admission criteria are appropriate to the maintenance of the academic standards of its awards."

A spokesman said Westminster welcomed the report as a positive account of its work. "The fact that no issues requiring necessary remedial action were identified is also welcomed," he said. "The QAA advised that we should continue with the analysis of our students' exit attainments relative to their qualifications and experience on admission. This has been part of the annual monitoring of taught courses for many years and the university will continue to enhance these processes."

DFES voices concern over 'ghostwriter'
The government has condemned Elizabeth Hall, the former lecturer selling essays to university students over the internet, following investigations by The THES .

The THES first reported in September that Ms Hall, a former lecturer whose career at the University of Central England came to an end in 1996 after a drawn-out dispute with her employers, was offering her services as a "ghostwriter" on the internet, for about £35 to £50 an hour. She boasted that she wrote all assessed coursework for entire degree programmes.

Ms Hall has been defiant in the face of outcry following The THES 's expose. After our most recent report, late last month, she said: "I shall continue to write for whom I like, about what I like and when I like."

This week, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said:

"We strongly disapprove of what is being alleged." But she said: "It is for higher education institutions to apply their own disciplinary procedures if students are suspected of cheating."

Ms Hall's activities are apparently legal because she says her essays are mere "guidance" and she asks students to sign disclaimers taking full responsibility for what they use her essays for.

But students using Ms Hall's services may be interested in her credentials.

The THES has learnt that Ms Hall taught a City and Guilds teacher-training certificate for college lecturers at UCE before going on long-term sick leave for stress in 1994-95 and taking early retirement. She took an administrative post in the corporate development centre, but following complaints from colleagues, she was disciplined and dismissed, failing her three-month probation period.

She appealed to the governors' appeal committee which changed the dismissal to a final warning and gave her another chance. But she went back on sick leave until she had exhausted all her paid sick leave entitlement and then resigned of her own accord.

Whistleblowers will return on January 4. Merry Christmas.

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