Polytechnic directors warned on standards

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

FORMER polytechnics have been warned by the Government to heed the debate over alleged falling standards in school exams.

Nigel Forman, Under-Secretary of State for Education, has not suggested that degree standards have slipped. But he told the meeting of the Committee of Polytechnic Directors, who lead the new universities: 'The higher education world would be very short sighted if it did not look across at the public debate on GCSE and A-level and see the warning of what can happen if doubts arise about the maintenance of educational standards.

'Indeed, in some respects, the higher education world is particularly at risk from such criticism, since the available data suggests both a dramatic rise in student numbers and rising proportions of first-class and upper-second-class degrees.'

John Stoddart, principal of Sheffield City Polytechnic, soon to become Sheffield Hallam University, said yesterday: 'There is no evidence that standards are falling. The minister did not imply that. He said we had to be cautious, particularly concerning what has been said about the schools.'

Dr Clive Booth, director of Oxford Polytechnic, said: 'Ministers are nervous. This is a warning note.'

He believed it was easier to be awarded a first in some of the more traditional universities. 'There has to be inter-university variation, which does give rise to the question of what it means to get a first.'

He said the universities were aware that the system of external examiners who scrutinized internal examination procedures was 'less than perfect'. The new Higher Education Quality Council would examine how standards were maintained.

Mr Forman also told the polytechnic directors, meeting in Edinburgh, that they should 'stand firm' when making pay offers to lecturers. The directors have offered academics a 3.9 per cent rise.

Two polytechnics won approval to become new universities from the Privy Council yesterday. Leeds Polytechnic will call itself Leeds Metropolitan University and Manchester Polytechnic will become the Manchester Metropolitan University.

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