Why quality is strained

June 19, 1998

Proponents of quality initiatives, such as John Randall (THES, June 12), are not engaged in "questioning received wisdom" nor are they heroic warriors against the elitism of "unaccountable professional priesthoods". Rather they are part of a new public-sector elite whose influence has been unremittingly malign on quality in a substantive, rather than a managerial sense.

Randall claims that quality assurance is needed to reassure stakeholders that university expansion has not been deleterious to standards. But it plainly has, and what is needed are not more checking mechanisms but more resources. Randall claims that some employers see graduates as lacking key skills but admits that these deficiencies are often due to inadequate pre-university education. So quality regimes in universities will not solve that problem either. To see the fatuity of such regimes it is only necessary to witness the Ofsted debacle in schools where there are now proposals to instigate quality systems to check the quality of the quality inspectors. All this is obvious: what is galling is the repeated claim that quality mechanisms are for the good of the public and the universities rather than being solely in the interest of an emerging quality "establishment" that serves no interests other than its own.

Christopher Grey. Leeds University Business School

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