Lax control still dogs partner schemes, QAA says

Some UK universities are still failing to control what is being done in their name when they offer their degree courses in collaboration with outside partners, quality watchdogs have said.

In an overview report on the state of collaborative provision in UK universities, based on individual quality audit reports carried out at 70 institutions, the Quality Assurance Agency raises concerns about the "lax oversight" of academic standards offered by partner institutions. It says that, in some cases, students overseas may not be getting a degree "equivalent" to those studying on the home campus.

The QAA has repeatedly warned that poor student experiences or lower standards in a minority of degree courses offered abroad can seriously harm the reputation of UK higher education, damaging overseas student recruitment.

But in the latest report, the QAA highlights some persistent problems, including the absence of clear contractual agreements governing the nature of partnerships, the reliance on "informal" arrangements, the use of poor-quality staff, the lack of "academic interaction" between the university and its partner, and even poor student selection procedures.

In the report, collaborative provision in the institutional audit reports", which are part of the learning from audit series, the QAA says that in general, quality assurance arrangements are "both sound and well conducted". But it points out that, while it highlights 16 "features of good practice" in its 70 reports, it makes 28 recommendations for improvements.

It adds: "These reveal concerns about formulation and operation of management systems; liaison arrangements; documentation, including handbook and agreements; approval, monitoring, review and termination processes, assessment and external examiners and staff development."

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