Colleges are not like cheese...
moves to create an index of `maturity' for universities
Thursday 18 April 1996
Both statements reflect an increasing impatience with the present degree of autonomy accorded to higher education in the UK. Mr Forth's problem is that he has no hard evidence on which to justify the very drastic step of a blatant, statutory assault on this autonomy. So the deliberations of the Joint Planning Group (JPG, composed of representatives of the vice- chancellors, college principals and funding councils) on the shape and powers of the proposed single higher-education quality-assurance agency are now assuming a critical importance.
These deliberations are taking place behind closed doors. But a recent smoke signal suggests that discussion has focused on the construction of an index of institutional "maturity". Universities and colleges would be placed in one of four categories. Those deemed to possess comprehensive quality assurance arrangements - systematic, rigorous, well-documented, transparent and, above all, externally auditable - would earn a place in the highest category, subject to much less policing than institutions ranked lower down. Presumably, an institution could secure "promotion" from a lower to a higher category, but could also be "relegated". What is clear is that such a system could only operate on the basis of periodic inspection of all institutions, irrespective of their past "form".
Now some vice-chancellors might warm to such a system. After all, academic audit, carried out by the Higher Education Quality Council, entails visits to all institutions, and it would need but the stroke of a pen to convert its carefully phrased formative judgements into "verdicts", "scores" even, on the basis of which a place would be secured on a league table of maturity.
But before the enthusiasts rush to sign up for this fate, they need to think through what such a system would amount to. Some academics like to think of institutional maturity in much the same terms as the maturity of wine, or cheese: full-bodied excellence develops with age, and ripens over the centuries; the older and smellier the university, the greater its claim to be left alone. What is there to fear, therefore, from the league tables being contemplated by the JPG?
Academics who reason thus might like to reflect that the lesson of academic audit does not point to this conclusion at all. It is precisely from some of the older universities that academic auditors have come away most concerned, having been confronted with ramshackle quality assurance arrangements, not infrequently based on an "oral" law, the text of which is passed by word of mouth from one generation of dons to the next as they drink their port and eat their cheese.
In higher education the time of the gourmet, supreme and unchallengeable, has passed. We live in an age of accountability. In higher education this means we must define the standards by which we work, publish them for the world to see, and set out the machinery we have in place to assure them. Done well, this should enable us to see off threats to institutional autonomy, and the sinister paraphernalia, culled from the worlds of sporting fixtures and haute cuisine, by means of which it is apparently intended that they should be carried into effect.
The writer is head of the Academic Development and Quality Assurance Unit at Middlesex University.
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Man dies instantly after shooting firework from top of his head
Isis schoolgirl Amira Abase who fled London to join terrorists in Syria mocks victims of Tunisia massacre
Father faces deportation to Thailand after 27 years in Britain for two 'stupid crimes'
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 3 Greek debt crisis: Yanis Varoufakis's funniest (and most memorable) quotes
- 4 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To contribute to the day-to-da...
£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...
£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...
£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...