Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 95

Supplementary evidence from Professor Geoffrey Alderman following the oral evidence session on 9 March 2009


    — Universities in the UK are free to launch degree programmes in whatever subjects they please, no matter how controversial, sensational or inappropriate.— Neither the Quality Assurance Agency nor any other body has authority to prohibit a university from launching a particular programme of study.


  1.  Following my oral evidence to the Select Committee on Monday 9 March 2009 a member of the committee suggested to me that I might wish to submit a short supplementary note which addressed an issue that had been raised on 9 March. The issue is simply this: what action might the Quality Assurance Agency take in respect of a UK university that announced it was launching a Bachelor of Science degree in—say—Homeopathy or indeed Astrology?

  2.  The answer is that there is no action the QAA could take other than to make a judgment as to the process by which the degree had come to be authorised.

  3.  Suppose a university wished to launch a BSc in Astrology. It would draw up a curriculum, supported no doubt by a Programme Specification Template (as mandated by the QAA) and a statement locating the proposed degree within the Qualifications Framework for Higher Education. Doubtless the views of a couple of suitably qualified external assessors would be garnered—say two practising astrologers who wrote weekly newspaper columns. All this material, plus a business plan, would make its way through the appropriate committee structure—typically the university's Planning Committee, Academic Board and Senate (or similar). Then marketing would begin, followed by recruitment of students, and teaching would commence. At least one external examiner would need to be appointed—again probably a practising astrologer, perhaps one who had authored some books and had a university degree. The programme would be up and running!

  4.  In due course the programme would come within the purview of a QAA institutional audit. But all that the auditors would be concerned with would be that the relevant sections of the QAA's Code of Practice had been followed—on programme approval and monitoring, student support and guidance and so on—and that due deference had been paid to the Qualifications Framework. It would be no business of the QAA to suggest that—perchance—Astrology might not be an entirely suitable subject to be taught at a UK university—let alone for the award of a BSc degree. Matters of that sort are entirely outside the QAA's purview.

  5.  Interestingly, in the USA universities must seek the specific approval of their regional accrediting commissions for each degree programme that they wish to run, and for which they wish their students to be eligible for Federal financial aid. An accrediting commission could tell a university that Astrology was not a suitable subject for the award of a BSc degree, and that approval of it, therefore, would not be forthcoming. There is—currently—no body with a similar authority in the UK.

March 2009

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