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

Memorandum 104

Letter dated 26 March from Mr Peter Williams, Chief Executive, Quality Assurance Agency, to Mr Phil Willis MP, Chairman of the Committee

  Progress report on AAA's enquiries into public concerns about academic standards

  Thank you for inviting me to the 9 March session of your Committee's inquiry into students and universities.

  In giving my evidence I mentioned again the enquiries that QAA is conducting into five areas which emerged as possible matters of serious concern last summer. A progress report into these enquiries is now available, a copy of which I enclose. The final report should be finished after Easter, but I hope that in the meantime you find this a useful update to aid your inquiry.

  As I said on 9 March, our enquiries so far suggest that while the UK has a fundamentally sound higher education system, there is evidence to support further exploration in the following areas:

    — the range of contact hours appropriate to the student learning experience,

    — guidance offered to international students about UK higher education the support arrangements that international students should expect from higher education institutions, including English language support and personal and academic support,

    — processes used to identify, train and support external examiners, including re-opening the debate about whether there should be a nationally agreed set of minimum expectations for the role of all external examiners,

    — a review of assessment and degree classification practices across and between institutions, and

    — effective ways of informing the general public about academic standards and quality in higher education and the purpose and principles of external quality assurance processes.

  The progress report is an update on the first stage of the project, which has involved a detailed analysis of media coverage, comments and blogs as well as in depth interviews and focus group discussions with people from across the higher education sector. QAA has also looked at published and unpublished reports, papers, lectures and speeches.

  The aim of this stage was to identify any of the five areas in which there is evidence to support assertions made in summer 2008, using different methods from those used in QAA's regular audits of higher education institutions.

  I also promised to send the Committee a clarifying note on other issues, and this will follow shortly.

March 2009

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