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A consultation is being launched today to inform improvements in how the education of students in HE is assured, and to help address concerns about quality and standards (see note 1). The consultation is being undertaken by Universities UK, GuildHE and the HE funding bodies for England and Northern Ireland.

New audit method

The consultation sets out proposals for revisions to the system used for quality assurance of HE courses after 2010-11, when the current cycle of institutional audits by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will be completed.

Effective quality assurance remains a shared goal to be achieved by an audit method that we propose will be more proactive, responsive and more able to address concerns as they arise. Students should increasingly play a part in the new quality assurance system, engaging through feedback, representation, and acting as student auditors. Employers, and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies, will also play an important role.

The proposals also ask the QAA to look closely at how standards at universities and colleges can be compared, and consider the language it uses in reporting on audit outcomes to ensure they are easily understood. The consultation also proposes a higher profile for the information that is made available to prospective students, students, parents and employers.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'We want to develop a responsive system of quality assurance to meet the diverse needs of students and to sustain public confidence in our higher education provision which already attracts admiration and support from around the world.

'Through these proposals we want to achieve a robust and rigorous approach to quality and standards that will maintain public confidence and the international standing of universities and colleges. The overall quality framework has a direct bearing on the experiences and achievements of students during their studies. They have an essential role to play in developing and operating these new arrangements.'

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said:

'Quality is our greatest asset, and it must be safeguarded. We have a world-class higher education system which we are constantly looking to improve. We want to hear from universities, colleges, students, employers, professional bodies and others about how quality and standards should be protected in higher education. In particular, the interests of current and prospective students must be at the heart of the revised system. We want to make real changes to improve the experience of students and the reputation of higher education.'

Anthony McClaran, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said:

'This consultation is a chance to listen to all who have a stake in the quality of higher education. There is the opportunity to build on what's worked well, to respond to new challenges and expectations, and to identify the principles and objectives that should underpin the quality assurance system of the future.'

NUS President, Wes Streeting, said:

'We strongly welcome these new arrangements, and the central role that students will play within them. NUS has long argued for more robust, comparable information about courses so that applicants can make fully informed choices, and we are delighted that this has been heeded.'

Professor Ruth Farwell, Vice Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University and Chair of GuildHE, said:

'It is right and proper that students should be at the heart of any new system for the assurance of quality in higher education. We look forward to seeing responses to the consultation.'

More robust and comparable information

Ensuring students have access to robust and comparable information about what they can expect from their time at university is at the heart of the proposals in the consultation.

HEFCE, with other partners including Universities UK, GuildHE and the QAA, has commissioned detailed research into what information students want and need when choosing where to study, and how that information can best be presented so that it is easy to see what institutions provide for students, and easy to compare universities and colleges, and the courses they run.

Once that set of information is established it is proposed that institutional audits conducted by the QAA will make a judgement on the reliance that can be placed on the accuracy and completeness of the information provided by universities and colleges. This will ensure that they are accountable for the provision of accurate and comparable information.

There will be a further consultation on this information set in 2010 when the results of the research will be known.

External examiners

External examiners also have a key role in supporting comparability of degree standards. So to ensure they are fit to face future challenges and support the new quality assurance arrangements, Universities UK and GuildHE are conducting a detailed review of external examining arrangements.


 

Notes

  1. 'Future arrangements for quality assurance in England and Northern Ireland' (HEFCE 2009/47) is a consultation document setting out proposals for revisions to the system used for quality assurance of HE in England and Northern Ireland. It has been developed by the representative bodies for HE (Universities UK and GuildHE) and funders (HEFCE and the Department for Employment and Learning (in Northern Ireland)), with the advice and guidance of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. The Association of Colleges has been fully involved in the decisions over the consultation.
  2. HEFCE has recently funded the National Union of Students and the Higher Education Academy to undertake a joint project to support institutions and students' unions to better engage students in shaping their learning experiences. The project will combine a sector-wide approach as well as more tailored advice for specific institutions or groups of institutions.
  3. Universities UK has launched a Quality and Standards micro-site, giving an insight into how both are assured at UK universities. The site provides information on how the system works, FAQs, statistics and updates on the latest media and news stories from the quality field.