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Putting students at the heart of quality assessment

23 September 2015
Professor Simon Gaskall

Professor Simon Gaskell

President and Principal
Queen Mary University of London
Students walking down a corridor

Universities UK has submitted our response to the review of quality assessment in higher education that has been run by the national funding councils of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This review also comes at a time when government is focusing on the academic experience of students as it develops proposals for a teaching excellence framework.

We believe that this is a significant opportunity to reform the system so that it can focus on what matters – helping students and the public ensure that the provision it supports is delivering the quality and outcomes that should rightly be expected.

The sector has undergone significant change over recent years. This has included a greater role for students in paying for their education, a deregulation of student numbers, an increased diversity of providers, and divergence between the national systems. It is clear that these trends are going to continue into the future. For this reason, it is essential that we develop a system that gives the public confidence in a way that deals with this complexity without piling the burden on providers themselves.

Getting this balance right is a challenge. Government has a responsibility to check that provision is of an appropriate standard, protecting the students’ and public’s investment. Equally, government and its agencies are not higher education providers – they don’t teach students, civil servants are not academics, they don’t review the work of their peers, and they don’t have lecture theatres, academic libraries or edit journals. It is higher education institutions who have built up this expertise as part of their education missions and have honed their ability over the years to deliver high quality education.

As a result, we believe it is important that the sector maintains ownership of its own standards and that these standards should be UK wide. Institutions, operating in a competitive recruitment market, are also responsible for maintaining and enhancing the quality of their provision. What we hope is that through reforms regulatory bodies can work together with mechanisms of institutional governance to ensure that baseline standards are being met and that mechanisms are in place that can focus on problems should they arise.

However we also recognise that this system should be taking into account issues that are directly relevant to students. Therefore we have proposed the inclusion of a core set of benchmarked metrics that should be used to direct external interventions when and where they required. We believe that metrics should take into account the profile of students that an institution admits, how well an institution does at retaining its students, the subsequent destination of students and their overall satisfaction with their studies.

We hope that an approach that incorporates these metrics, alongside assurances that the academic standards in institutions are robust, will help to underpin a system that can focus on what matters to the public, students and the sector itself.

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