Whistleblowers

February 8, 2002

The £6,000-a-year Anglo-European College of Chiropractic appears to have a novel way of testing its students - it recycles its test questions.

The THES has copies of two second-year biochemistry test papers - one from March 1998, another for March 2000 - used at the AECC, an associate college of the University of Portsmouth. Both papers pose 50 "true or false" questions, but 25 of the questions appear in identical form on both papers.

Gabriel Donleavy, the principal and chief executive, said the papers were "merely class test papers that contribute no more than 10 per cent of the total mark for biochemistry".

He explained: "The test is aimed at capturing recall of simple but important facts. As there are only a limited number of such facts, it is to be expected that repetition of questions over the years will occur. But it would surely be most strange for a student to rely on rote learning of previous years' multiple-choice alternative letters rather than to learn the associated facts themselves."

One former AECC student, Philip Moroney, who is in dispute with the college over his forced withdrawal from the course, has complained that irrespective of the papers' contribution to the final mark, the tests should not have been so similar. He believes the papers contain a high percentage of identical questions each year, but he has not been able to obtain other past papers. He also claims that as students had been allowed to keep question papers on an ad hoc basis, and as the past papers are not available to all in the library, students have had unequal access to them, giving some an unfair advantage.

Professor Donleavy refuted Mr Moroney's claim: "Our policy is that all past papers are archived in the library and are available to all enrolled students. Access via previous students is superfluous and irrelevant." But when asked to provide copies of the biochemistry papers for 1999 and 2001, to compare with the 1998 and 2000 papers, Professor Dunleavy confirmed that these papers were not available in the library. He said only final exam papers were held.

Alan Tyler, the tutor responsible for the test papers, said: "I would confirm that the class test papers are not archived in the college library. It has been common practice in recent years to allow students to retain their in-class test papers, while spares have been made available from individual tutors' offices, on request, to those students anxious to get a 'feel' for the scope of the test paper and its material."

He said he could not release the 1999 and 2001 papers to The THES because "I do not still retain any copies of these items".

A spokesman for the University of Portsmouth said: "On the question of examinations set by AECC, the university has no reason to doubt either their standards or their integrity."

Audit expertise added in Cambridge reform
Cambridge University is reforming its audit committee to include independent external members for the first time after an inquiry condemned the university's accountability.
In his independent review of Cambridge's bungled implementation of a new financial accounting system late last year, Michael Shattock said the audit committee "did not provide the rigorous, independent view of the university's affairs that the university needed".

The committee, chaired until January 2001 by David Thomson, theologian and former bursar of Fitzwilliam College, failed to provide proper warnings that the university's financial system was heading for collapse, at a cost of millions of pounds. Cambridge's finances remain murky.

Professor Shattock said the audit committee should have a majority of lay members with relevant expertise and a lay chairman with a recognised ability to take an "external and critical view" of Cambridge's affairs.

"There is perhaps a natural tendency in Cambridge to seek to rebuff criticisms and to be reluctant to take on board doubts and warnings expressed from outsideI A strong and, where necessary, questioning audit committee is a benefit to a university although it may constitute an uncomfortable bedfellow."

This week, the university put forward recommendations to reconstitute its audit committee in line with Professor Shattock's recommendations.

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