Hypnotic suggestion: you must do better
QAA highly critical of St Mary's University College's oversight of unique course. Jack Grove reports
Serious weaknesses in the provision of the UK's only undergraduate degree in hypnosis - including listing an undergraduate as an examiner - put academic standards at risk, according to a damning Quality Assurance Agency report.
The regulator launched an investigation in April into the BSc in clinical hypnosis, validated by St Mary's University College Twickenham, after two students complained about a lack of contact hours and low academic standards on the course.
The part-time course is run by a private firm called Brief Strategic Therapy & Clinical Hypnosis (BST) Foundation and normally lasts three years, but can be completed in just two, depending on applicants' prior experience as hypnotherapists.
According to the QAA, St Mary's had "not exercised sufficient oversight" of the course, which "resulted in procedural irregularities, the use of inadequately qualified and trained staff in teaching, confused practice and the provision of inaccurate and incomplete information".
"This has put the academic standards of the awards at risk and diminished the quality of...learning opportunities," the report adds.
Confusion over staff recruitment led to one undergraduate enrolled on the course teaching on it: he was listed as an examiner, it says.
"I saw one student give a talk, but I didn't realise he was marking my papers, too," a student told Times Higher Education. "I feel betrayed and the whole hypnosis community will feel betrayed. I'm looking at litigation because I've wasted a year on a course that is now tainted."
Inaccuracies found by THE in course materials included describing the BST Foundation's director as "Dr Gavin Emerson" in an introductory handbook, despite his having no PhD or MD. The mistake was blamed by BST - which said it did not create the document - on a typing error.
The QAA report also found that the external examination process was "not fit for purpose" because links had developed between the externals and those providing the programme. There was also no independent moderator to check the course, while practical and oral assessments were not routinely recorded, which meant their quality could not be verified.
St Mary's was also unable to show it had checked the delivery of promised teaching hours, the report adds, while students were not told how they could complain.
The inquiry also found evidence that reading lists were "not adequate to meet the demands of an honours degree course", a "significant limitation...since there is so little face-to-face teaching".
Students had complained that the course was limited to one teaching day every two Saturdays, with class sizes of about 30.
A 13-point action plan has been submitted by the QAA to St Mary's, which was criticised by the watchdog in 2010 for its oversight of collaborative provision.
A spokesman for the college said the hypnosis degree had been "the first of its kind in the UK...In retrospect, various issues emerged, including in relation to the validation process, which St Mary's could have dealt with more effectively."
The BST Foundation declined to comment.
Watchdog sniffs out business school failures
The Quality Assurance Agency has uncovered a series of failures at a private business school that was validated by the University of Wales.
Birmingham-based Finance Business Training, which is jointly run with the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), accepted "many inappropriate students" and at one point had a student complaint rate of 54 per cent, the agency found during an investigation between January and April.
The two colleges have the same principal and academic framework, and began validation agreements with London Metropolitan University in April after the Wales partnership ended in November 2011.
According to the QAA's report, which focuses on the Birmingham college, the institution "failed to provide the resources, human or learning...necessary to give all students a realistic chance of success".
At one point, the progression rate on the MBA course fell to 33 per cent and in some cases "no constructive feedback was given to students".
The report says that there have been "significant improvements" in a number of areas, including teaching quality. However, claims that the problems had been "decisively corrected" understate "the nature and extent of the challenges".
The University of Wales acknowledged that it had "ultimately failed in the exercise of its authority as a degree-awarding institution".
In October 2011, it announced an end to its large-scale validation business and said it would only accredit courses designed and fully controlled by the institution.
A spokeswoman for the business institutions said that the report referred to "historic issues" and that "significant improvements" had been made.
London Met said that it had been aware of a "range of concerns" at the institutions when it announced a "large-scale" validation scheme in April, and that it was working to ensure compliance with the QAA.
The University of Central Lancashire also validates LSBF courses.
In April, former prime minister Tony Blair praised the LSBF as a "great example" in an interview at the college.
It lists Prince Michael of Kent as its Royal Patron and former education secretary David Blunkett as a visiting lecturer.