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New Game, New Rules

Originally published 24 July 2002

After over a year of uncertainty and national debate, all but the fine detail of the new framework for the external assessment of universities’ teaching quality is now clear.

There will, as anticipated, be a system of Institutional Audit – eventually on a six-year cycle – during which a number of so-called "discipline audit trails" will be chosen to test the effectiveness of the University’s quality management systems at the subject level. These will be chosen at short notice so that, although Subject Review in its old form is being abandoned, departments will nevertheless need to be prepared for possible review by the QAA of selected aspects of their provision. The Institutional Audit of the University will take place in Spring 2004.

The outcome of the Institutional Audit will be an evaluative report, at the end of which the Auditors will indicate "the level of confidence that can reasonably be placed in the soundness of the University’s present and likely future management of the quality of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards" and "the reliance that can reasonably be placed on the accuracy, integrity, completeness and frankness of the information that the University publishes about the quality of its programmes and the standards of its awards".

The arrangements for external educational quality review in the transitional period, during which the QAA is introducing its new method, are complex and have been controversial. In summary, they involve selected reviews at the subject level known as "developmental engagements", the results of which will not be published, but which will – at least in theory – allow a University to become more aware of elements of the Institutional Audit methodology. For the University, it is expected that this will mean a single review, to be carried out during 2002/03 and involving some of the degree courses in the Department of Chemistry.

There is also the recently formulated expectation that universities will publish certain data prescribed by the HEFCE – both qualitative and quantitative – about their quality and standards. Student survey outcomes will also have a higher profile than before and plans are under development for a nationally organised exit poll of recent graduates on the quality of their educational experience.

The recently established QAA architecture – Subject Benchmark Statements, the Code of Practice, the National Qualifications Framework, and Programme (Course) Specifications – remains as a series of reference points against which our provision will be judged. Deviation from these reference points is seen by the QAA as acceptable provided that the University can show during Audit that this has a clear rationale. The emphasis across the whole process is very much on demonstrating the effectiveness of the University’s internal systems for quality management.

Rosemary Harrison recently moved to the University from the University of Essex to take up the post of Senior Assistant Registrar (Teaching Quality) in the Deputy Registrar’s Office. If you have any enquiries on quality matters please contact Rosemary by email at