Professor Roger Brown, the former vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University, is one of the few big thinkers about higher education. He says what he thinks and what he thinks does not chime with prevailing orthodoxy, certainly when it comes to university funding. But his latest thoughts on maintaining standards are worth examining, partly because Brown used to run the now-defunct Higher Education Quality Council and partly because he really knows what goes on in a higher education institution.
His call for universities to have their power to award degrees reviewed every few years will annoy his former colleagues who will see it as leading to more work and red tape. But it would help to reassure the public if the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) were to play a tougher and more central role in advising about standards in universities, as Brown suggests.
And his idea for each institution's curriculum to be reviewed by academic experts from other universities – and their reports published – is an interesting one. He is right to warn of complacency. John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said in September that he wanted the QAA to respond more quickly to complaints. Perhaps that was not enough.
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