University of York Students' Union (YUSU)

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TEFing it Out with the QAA

Posted by Thomas Ron, 01/09/2015

Hi all,

I was recently at an NUS consultation about some changes the government were making to the way universities were obeserved to maintain quality.

The system we currently operate under is run by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).  It audits universities every 5 years or so to make sure that they are doing alright and gives them a score.  This review is usually rather in depth and does a good job of holding universities to account and by all means seems to have worked well.  However, the QAA is at the end of its contract and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is looking at replacing it.

The replacement system is still under consultation but it appears that university governing bodies will have to write an annual report on the university's activities and how it has done and the successor body to the QAA will review these reports every 5 years and make sure that the systems in place to make the report are intact.  Additionally, students may trigger reviews into departments if they feel it is merited.

The consultation is open and YUSU will be making a contribution to the system as well as ensuring that we have a system in York that works best for everyone.

Our area of contribution will be regarding the annual reports that universities provide.  This is a very concerning area, as we in the Union fear that it could lead to hiding problems rather than addressing them by the university (not necessarily York but .  Therefore, it is vital that Students' Unions have the right to compile a separate report.  They may choose not to use this but it must be an option to do so.  In York I believe the best course is for us to contribute to the university report but with the option of line-item dissent, where we can dissent with individual bits of the report and have that be put there, so when the new QAA comes in they can see where there is disagreement and target their investigation towards those areas.

The government is also implementing a Teaching Excellence Framework which will seek to assess excellence in teaching, like the Research Excellence Framework.  On one level this seems like a good move.  The assymetry between the assessment of research and teaching has led many lecturers to prioritise research over teaching and this has hurt students.  However, it is hard to assess what 'excellence' is in teaching.  It has to be a huge combination of elements.  Yet we cannot have an exercise in tick-boxing as innovation is often the mother of excellence.  Therefore, making sure the new Framework takes all elements of excellence into account while not stifling innovation.