Universities to oppose grading

UNIVERSITIES are set to fight a fierce battle with the Government about how the quality of teaching and learning in individual departments should be measured.

The overwhelming majority of universities have called for the scrapping of the present system of measuring subjects, such as history or chemical engineering, with a gradings of excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. In Scotland there is an extra grade of highly satisfactory.

Instead, they want a threshold judgement to be made, a kind of pass/fail, plus a 'profile' of each university. This, for example, would supply information on student completion rates, library capacity and spend, the quality and qualifications of the staff.

Ministers however insisted last year, when the assessment process was introduced, that there had to be gradings so that universities claiming 'excellence' in a subject would have to substantiate it.

By next March about a quarter of subjects will have been assessed. The reviews, involving huge documentation and visits to departments, are seen as cumbersome and costly. They also send out the wrong messages.

Dr Kenneth Edwards, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: 'Since 90 per cent of the assessments are only 'satisfactory' that is not very good for our image abroad.'

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is consulting universities and others about how to improve the system and has said that a threshold judgement would not satisfy the Government.

Most universities have told the funding council that they want a simple pass/fail judgement. Moreover, they do not just want minor changes to the assessment method.

The Government has told the vice-chancellors that it is concerned that degrees at some universities may not be equivalent to those at others. It wants to be assured that there is 'broad comparability' of standards.

In a confidential letter to the English funding council, Dr Edwards has said there is 'so much disquiet . . . about the present procedures for quality assessment' that change should not be delayed. The issue will be discussed by the vice-chancellors at their annual residential meeting this month.

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