This post was prompted on two recent events I attended, which followed similar patterns: – (i) the quality group under the Academic Registrars’ Council (ARC) banner; and (ii) the QAA’s Quality Matters event on student engagement. The principal speakers gave a summary of the unprecedented scale of change this year and there were practitioner-led sessions relating to changes in the quality assurance landscape, which I’ll describe here. In essence, speakers from UUK and QAA accepted that although the political context has changed, the Government’s reforms are unlikely to be affected substantially.
Much of this post follows-on from my blog post back in April 2016 and gives an update on some of the developments outlined in earlier consultations.
UK Quality Code
My earlier post quoted the QAA’s response to the Green Paper, which mentioned that there should be: “A revised, improved and simplified Quality Code, which evolves with UK higher education, should remain owned by the sector and maintained by QAA.” (QAA, 2016: 2)
This work has now started with a much-reduced staff and the Quality Matters event received an early draft of Chapter B5 (Student Engagement).
As one of several baseline requirements it remains unclear exactly what function the Quality Code will have other than in the ‘gateway to the sector’ review method. Those present at the event expressed concern about its loss of status, without a clearer sense of what the baseline requirements would look like, as a reduced Quality Code would in time be overlooked and the current iteration had acted as a useful reflective tool to improve practices.
The development of the Code will be overseen by a UK-wide Standing Committee and the next steps in the project were as follows:
- update and refine the main body of the Code, streamlining the expectations and removing the indicators;
- develop a Degree Apprenticeships characteristics statement;
- develop (cost-effective) proposals for the future management of Subject Benchmark Statements.
The Subject Benchmark Statements were mentioned as ‘no longer forming part of the regulatory system’, which begs the question: what then is their status? Only the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications has been specifically mentioned as being retained.
It’s not just the Quality Code that will diminish; a similar sentiment can be applied to student engagement as a whole. The Quality Matters event was worried about the role of students under the new arrangements. For instance, in TEF submissions “providers are encouraged to show how they have involved students in preparing the submission”, however “no provider will be disadvantaged in the event of non-cooperation by their students or Student Union”. (DfE, 2016: 37)
If you consider the TEF and Annual Provider Review, what’s been lost is the place of students at the heart of the new processes. Figure 2 below, from the ‘Revised operating model for quality assessment’ (HEFCE, 2016) has ‘Student voice’ at the periphery of the diagram, feeding into ‘intelligence gathering’ rather than having a direct link to the assurance statements given by governing bodies or the visits to institutions by HEFCE.
The NUS claims to have scored a success by the inclusion of a student representative on the board of the Office for Students (OfS). The wording in the House of Commons Notices of Amendments is:
at least one of the ordinary members must have experience of representing or promoting the interests of individual students, or students generally, on higher education courses provided by higher education providers. (House of Commons, 2016: #21)
This could be a sop to the student movement by the Government, as the OfS could choose a board member with limited or obsolete experience of student representation and still fulfil the wording of this amendment. Although QAA says it intends to protect the interest of students in the future the threats are there and may be exacerbated by the loss of institutional review when arguably students were most influential.
Review of degree algorithms: – we heard at the ARC event that UUK was working with others on guidance on degree algorithms. The first step was a survey of institutions’ current practice and the guidance would set out current trends and recommended models. There won’t be a requirement to use a particular algorithm or choose from a standard set.
Annual Provider Review and assurances on quality: – the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) is seeking examples of how governing bodies had been engaged in the process as part of new guidance for the sector, for instance how boundaries between corporate governance and institutional management are managed.
Annual Provider Review one-off verification of periodic review processes: – details of the process for the one-off verification of institutions’ own periodic review processes were due to be signed-off by HEFCE in December along with the 36 institutions selected for the pilot. Information on this may therefore be expected shortly.
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) (2016) Fulfilling our potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/474266/BIS-15-623-fulfilling-our-potential-teaching-excellence-social-mobility-and-student-choice-accessible.pdf [Accessed 27 April 2016]
Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Teaching Excellence Framework: year two specification [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/556355/TEF_Year_2_specification.pdf [Accessed 11 December 2016]
Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) (2016) Revised operating model for quality assessment [online]. Available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/HEFCE,2014/Content/Pubs/2016/201603/HEFCE2016_03.pdf [Accessed 11 December 2016]
House of Commons (2016) Notices of amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill (to 14 November 2016) (HL Bill 76) [online] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0078/amend/higher_rm_rep_1114.pdf?mc_cid=2ba394610a&mc_eid=177ebfb7cf [Accessed 11 December 2016]
Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) (2016) Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice – QAA’s Response [online] Available at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/Documents/QAA-Green-Paper-Response-Jan-16.pdf [Accessed 24 April 2016]