HEFCE Revised Operating Model for Quality Assessment

Last week HEFCE published their revised operating model for quality assessment. This is based on the responses from the sector consultation that took place last year, and where we, and many other universities, identified areas that were of concern to us. Some of these have been addressed. However, this is also part of the current sectoral land grab to have the responsibility for qualit; at the same time as publishing, HEFCE has put out to tender various aspects of its quality work.

Key points to note from the revised operating model:

  • “future quality assessment arrangements should seek to encourage innovation in learning and teaching, rather than driving providers towards risk-averse activities and homogenised provision.”
  • “approach for implementation is therefore designed to be proportionate, risk-based and grounded in the context of each individual provider and its students”
  • a set of baseline regulatory requirements will still based on parts of the existing quality code and the framework fr higher education qualifications
  • fore new entrants there will be a gateway process followed by a developmental period of enhanced scrutiny and support
  • for established providers, a review of their own review processes, followed by a data-based Annual Provider Review and a revised periodic review visit

Some common areas of contention from responses from the sector were: comparability of standards; a potential national register of external examiners, and the roe of governing bodies.

A large section of the document covers comparability of standards, and classification algorithms used.The document states that when reviewing the original proposals:

Arguments mobilised against the proposals included:
• an opposition in principle to the funding bodies acting in an area where institutional autonomy is prized
• a view that there was no particular problem to be resolved, or that the specific proposals would not resolve whatever problems might exist
• a series of more practical concerns relating to increasing the burden on external examiners, thereby disincentivising the people on whom the successful operation of the system depends.

But that “student and PSRB respondents were much clearer that modernisation in this area was important, with some suggesting that the proposed reforms did not go far enough”

HEFCE have moved away from the proposal for a national register of external examiners, but talk instead of training of examiners to ensure that they are able to check comparability of standards – there is still a worry that good degree rates are rising and that these may not be defensible

The role of governors was an area that may universities had plenty to say about in the response to consultation, where it was felt that governing bodies may not be best placed to make direct judgements about academic quality. Again, HEFCE have clarified their expectation:

The role of the governing body would be to receive reports and challenge assurances from within the institution. It should not be drawn into quality management activities itself. We recognise the predominant role of senates and academic boards (or equivalent) in academic governance, and the responsibility of the accountable officer and senior executive team, and would expect an individual governing body to be clear about the formal relationships between the elements of the governance arrangements in its own institutional context.

There’s plenty more to digest. As always, WonkHe have a guide to how the new system will work, written by Louisa Darian.

What will be interesting now is the transitional arrangements and the pilots to be run during 2016-17.