One-size-fits-all qual­ity sys­tem ‘forces pri­vate col­leges to lie’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

A se­nior aca­demic stan­dards as­ses­sor has hit out at Eng­land’s “one­size-fits-all” qual­ity sys­tem, claim­ing that it forces staff at al­ter­na­tive providers to fab­ri­cate ev­i­dence for in­spec­tions.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary at­tack on the re­view method op­er­ated by the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency, Peter Green, who has un­der­taken nu­mer­ous re­views for the stan­dards watch­dog, said that the cur­rent sys­temwas forc­ing staff at al­ter­na­tive providers to com­mit “in­ten­tional and de­lib­er­ate” mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion to pass their in­spec­tions.

Writ­ing in a jour­nal pub­lished by Lon­don Churchill Col­lege, of which he is prin­ci­pal, Mr Green said that it was un­fair for al­ter­na­tive provid- ers to be “judged [against] the same bench­marks” as the univer­sity sec­tor when they could not charge more than £6,165 a year in tu­ition fees. Uni­ver­si­ties can charge up to £9,250.

“No con­sid­er­a­tion or mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances are of­fered to ac­count for a £3,000 per stu­dent fee-in­come deficit com­pared to the uni­ver­si­ties,” writes Mr Green in the pa­per, “QAA Re­views: Fact or Fab­ri­ca­tion”, which was pub­lished re­cently in the Jour­nal of Con­tem­po­rary De­vel­op­ment and Man­age­ment Stud­ies.

Given the “scarce re­sources” within al­ter­na­tive providers and the un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion that they will achieve univer­sity-level re­sults, “aca­demics are fabri­cat­ing out­comes, pre­sent­ing a pub­lic im­age of in­sti­tu­tional well­be­ing to achieve fund­ing [and] course ac­cred­i­ta­tion”, ex­plains Mr Green, whose Whitechapel-based col­lege is ac­cred­ited by the Univer­sity of Bed­ford­shire.

“Th­ese are nec­es­sary be­hav­iours for al­ter­na­tive providers to sur­vive,” he adds, liken­ing the sit­u­a­tion to the “crim­i­nal [who] will lie un­der oath to avoid con­vic­tion”, he says.

“For in­sti­tu­tional man­age­ment and aca­demics alike, pub­lished ev­i­dence of poor per­for­mance has to be avoided at all costs,” Mr Green ex­plains.

Com­ment­ing on the claims, Will Nay­lor, the QAA’s di­rec­tor of col­leges and al­ter­na­tive providers, stated that Mr Green’s “per­sonal views bear no re­sem­blance to QAA’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence” and said that he had pro­vided “no cor­rob­o­ra­tive ev­i­dence to back up his as­ser­tions”.

“We re­view th­ese providers against the same na­tion­ally agreed stan­dards that we ex­pect of all higher ed­u­ca­tion providers in the UK, as set out in the UK Qual­ity

Code for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion,” added Mr Nay­lor, who said that the fact that 16 per cent of al­ter­na­tive providers re­viewed since 2014 had faced fail­ing judge­ments “be­lie[d] Mr Green’s sug­ges­tion that re­views are easy to fab­ri­cate”.

Ar­gu­ing for a “root and branch over­haul” of the cur­rent “big bang sys­tem”, in which a neg­a­tive rat­ing can quickly lead to in­sti­tu­tional clo­sure, Mr Green claims that a new model that stresses “con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ment” and in which “suc­cess­ful out­comes [are] guar­an­teed with both par­ties work­ing to­gether” would lead to more honest as­sess­ments of qual­ity.

In­stead, staff at al­ter­na­tive providers are sim­ply “’well trained be­fore an im­por­tant val­i­da­tion”, and “pass­ing the QAA [as­sess­ment] is all about learn­ing the lines and prac­tis­ing them un­til com­pe­tent”, Mr Green says. “It is an ex­er­cise for par­rots,” he con­cludes.

In a state­ment to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Mr Green said that his pa­per rep­re­sented an “in­sider’s view­point” and drew on sim­i­lar con­cerns ex­pressed pri­vately by other re­view­ers.

In­sist­ing that he had fol­lowed QAA rules “to the letter” while act­ing as a re­viewer, and mak­ing clear that he thought that all the re­view­ers he had worked with had also “acted pro­fes­sion­ally…to de­liver pro­por­tion­ate and rea­son­able find­ings”, he none­the­less de­clared that he felt the cur­rent sys­tem was “stacked against al­ter­na­tive providers”.

By “try­ing to make ev­ery pro­gramme fit the same tem­plate…the QAA is con­stantly try­ing to pro­vide ev­i­dence of a level play­ing field that ex­ists only in fic­tion in or­der to sat­isfy gov­ern­ment”, Mr Green said.

One size ‘try­ing to make ev­ery pro­gramme fit the same tem­plate’ is un­fair on al­ter­na­tive providers, ar­gues Peter Green

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