Among its 109 recommendations, the report says the Quality Assurance Agency, the watchdog responsible for monitoring standards, should be transformed or scrapped. The report, Students and Universities, by the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee, has infuriated the higher education sector.
Diana Warwick, Chief Executive of the vice-chancellors’ organisation, Universities UK, expressed “disappointment” at the negative picture being painted of the sector. Warwick said although it was vital to maintain standards, UUK rejected the idea of creating some super-quango or Ofsted-style Quality and Standards Agency. “This seems to us a sledgehammer to crack a nut. For inspectors to judge content and level of achievement could logically lead to national exams based on a national curriculum, just as we have in schools. It has been recognised – internationally and by successive UK governments – that autonomy is key to a successful and responsive higher education system.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group representing 20 major research intensive universities, was “dismayed and surprised by this outburst” as she said vice-chancellors had been involved in hours of discussion with MPs over the issues. “It is also disappointing to see MPs trying to cram universities into one-size-fits-all solutions.”
Million+, the group representing post-1994 institutions, also rejected the proposals to change the QAA. Pam Tatlow, its Chief Executive, said the agency was a “robust system” which had influenced parallel developments worldwide. Along with UKK and the Russell Group, Tatlow supported some other recommendations in the report including those on widening participation and securing a better deal for part-time and mature students.
The University and College Union welcomed the recommendation to introduce a simple national bursary scheme for students which the union has been campaigning for. Sally Hunt, the union’s General Secretary, also welcomed the report’s call for a full review of university tuition fees. “It is heartening that, at a time when a worryingly growing political consensus seems to be that the fees review (due later this year) will merely consider how much they should rise, the committee has highlighted the inequities that part-time and mature students face,” Hunt said.