Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Universities reject more scrutiny

University chiefs say that there is no need for any further scrutiny

Universities have defended the effectiveness of self-regulation in maintaining standards - rejecting any need for further external scrutiny.

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said that this did not mean there was a "free for all".

A report from Universities UK applauds the sector's own "robust arrangements for assuring quality".

This comes as a committee of MPs is about to begin a wide-ranging inquiry into university standards.

Universities UK, representing the higher education sector, has published a guide to how quality is maintained - in response to what it says was "intense media interest" this summer over concerns about degree standards.


It concludes that there are sufficient checks and the report identifies no weaknesses - saying that the current system is "widely admired internationally".

It follows a series of reports raising doubts about the reliability of degree grades - with whistleblowers from within universities challenging the effectiveness of checks on the quality of students' work.

Among the concerns were the external examiner system, overseas students with inadequate language skills, grade inflation, plagiarism, doubts over the classification of degrees, the manipulation of satisfaction surveys and the pressure on academics to adjust marks to protect a university's image.

This had prompted questions about a lack of public accountability in a university system that was seeking increasing amounts of public money.

Phil Willis, chair of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills select committee, said that the lack of certainty over the value of university degrees was "descending into farce".

There had also been sceptical questioning from MPs on whether the watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency, could effectively monitor such a diverse system.

MPs had been told that at present no university department was currently assessed as being below standard and that the watchdog had never received a "cause for complaint" from students or academics.

At a meeting in the House of Lords, the university chiefs presented their own report, which concluded that university-led checks were an effective guarantee of standards - and denied that there was any conflict of interests.

In terms of external regulation, Universities UK pointed to the assessments carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency and the role of external examiners.

Universities UK president, Rick Trainor, said that the "UK model for assuring quality and standards in universities is sound and well-established".

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