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The report is based on a major review chaired by Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, to examine public concerns about quality and standards in HE. The group of experts, chaired by Professor Riordan, investigated whether the concerns were justified and what action needed to be taken.

Professor Riordan said:

'We have not identified any outright failure in the quality of English higher education but there are changes that need to be made. We have taken all the concerns and criticisms very seriously and identified a number of issues for consideration by the HEFCE Board and the sector. We are clear that higher education cannot afford to be complacent on quality and standards.'

HEFCE is legally responsible for making sure that academic quality is assessed in each university or college across England that it funds. We contract with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to make this assessment based on audit visits. The group concluded that the current method used by the QAA needs to be made more flexible and responsive to keep pace with changes in English HE and should be revised for the next series of audits beginning in 2011.

The other main recommendations of the report are that:

  • a review is needed of publicly available information provided by higher education institutions (HEIs) to meet the needs of students, parents, advisers and professionals
  • a complete review of the external examiner system should be undertaken
  • the degree classification system should be improved so that it better reflects student achievement.

The recommendations were presented to the HEFCE Board on 25 September. Some of the areas of work, such as the review of public information, are already under way. Others will be taken forward in conjunction with the QAA, the HE sector and other stakeholders.

Commenting on the findings of the committee, Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'We very much welcome this report. Addressing the recommendations will be challenging, but will help to ensure that HE in this country remains fit for purpose and maintains and builds public confidence at home and abroad.'

David Lammy, the Minister of State for Higher Education, said:

'We have a world class higher education system in England, with an excellent reputation for the quality of its degrees and its teaching. This is echoed in the views of our students, who have consistently rated their experiences highly.

'However, it is essential that the public remains confident in this reputation. Higher education continues to change and evolve, and our quality measures must change with it; we must never be complacent.

'This report validates the quality of our system and shows an impressive willingness in the sector to further improve transparency and the effectiveness of our quality assurance system. This is in all our interests and I look to HEFCE and the sector to take a lead in ensuring these recommendations are swiftly acted on.'


Notes

  1. 'Report of the sub-committee for Teaching, Quality, and the Student Experience HEFCE's statutory responsibility for quality assurance' (HEFCE 2009/40) is available.
  2. 'Quality' is about the teaching, support, assessment and opportunities for learning being provided for students. 'Standards' refers to the level of achievement that a student has to reach to gain a degree or other award. For any type of award the level of achievement should be the same across the UK no matter which university or college the student attended.
  3. HEFCE has a statutory duty to ensure that provision is made for assessing the quality of education in institutions it funds. The HEFCE Board and its strategic committee for Teaching, Quality and the Student Experience set up the expert sub-committee specifically to investigate concerns about quality and standards. The committee considered:
    • whether the concerns were substantiated
    • how public confidence in the quality and standards of the HE sector might be maintained and where necessary restored
    • whether there was a risk that HEFCE's statutory duty might be compromised
    • what actions should be recommended to HEFCE and others as a result.