Kite mark demand for overseas courses

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The Independent Online
Universities and colleges which want to open courses overseas should be asked to meet a "kite mark" quality standard, a committee of MPs said last night. The recommendation came amid severe criticism of a Welsh higher education institute which opened courses in eight countries.

The Public Accounts Committee said the Swansea Institute of Higher Education's arrangements for monitoring the courses were "seriously flawed".

Although the courses in Kenya, Malaysia, Brunei, Finland, China, Spain, Greece and Indonesia brought in at least pounds 400,000 per year, they could have proved more profitable still. The institute's former principal, Gerald Stockdale, spent pounds 25,000 on 18 trips to Kenya which generated just pounds 28,000.

When he resigned after revelations about the institute's overseas activities, Dr Stockdale received a settlement of pounds 118,921. The committee was "concerned" about this, and about the fact that Dr Stockdale's deputy was suspended on full pay for eight months before being dismissed. After the institute launched a postgraduate diploma in business management in Malaysia, the report said, certificates were printed locally and it was not clear whether all had been accounted for. Both the committee and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales had agreed this lack of control was "a dereliction of responsibility".

Higher education institutions are not allowed to use public funds to run overseas courses, and it was "troubling" that accounting systems at Swansea made it "very difficult" to see whether taxpayers' money had been properly ring-fenced.

The funding council had suggested that a new quality assurance body, already being set up, should take responsibility for courses being run overseas and should set up a "kite marking" system.

A spokesman for the Swansea Institute said the recommendations on its procedures, first made in a National Audit Office report, had already been implemented.