York St John's policing of standards worries QAA

Audit results in 'limited confidence' verdict and call for some external oversight. Jack Grove writes

September 29, 2011

The Quality Assurance Agency has raised concerns about the management of academic standards at York St John University.

The watchdog, whose audit team visited in April, said it had "limited confidence" in the institution's procedures to ensure the quality of its academic standards.

Its audit report, which has just been made public, recommends a review of the university's policies on standards and says York St John should appoint external advisers to approve and monitor its study programmes.

The unusually critical report also identifies 21 areas for improvement, including changes to the framework that guarantees oversight of student learning.

The verdict of "limited confidence" in an institution's academic standards management is relatively uncommon. It has been issued only twice in 76 audit reports compiled by the QAA between February 2007 and June 2009, the most recent figures available.

A further five institutions received "limited confidence" judgements in specific areas of study, such as postgraduate provision, over the period.

The agency's most severe verdict of "no confidence" has never been used.

York St John was founded as a teacher training college in the 1840s. It expanded its course offerings and eventually achieved university status in 2006.

In its first audit the same year, the QAA declared that it had "confidence" in the university's management of standards, but it has now expressed serious concerns over academic practices.

The new report also includes a call to review the committees moni-toring academic standards at York St John, while the QAA says that further clarity is needed on the reporting structure of these boards.

It goes on to say that regulations should be introduced to ensure that research students routinely receive training before they begin teaching undergraduates.

It also advises a review of the university's efforts to explain assessment practices to students. Other recommendations are for a more "coherent and timely" policy of responding to student feedback and a fuller implementation of its academic tutor system.

A spokesman for York St John said: "We welcome the advice provided by the auditors for system and process enhancements and have started work on addressing the areas identified for improvement.

"We are committed to providing a high-quality student experience and are pleased that improvements have been reflected in this year's National Student Survey results."

Despite the criticism, the QAA was more positive about the university's management of student learning, saying that it had confidence in its procedures governing this area.

A spokesman for the watchdog said York St John had been asked to submit an action plan to address concerns and it would seek confirmation that improvements were made within the next 18 months.

Once acceptable procedures were shown to be in place, the audit would be signed off. If not, further checks would be made.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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