Has every holder of a British university degree achieved the same universal standard?
The long process of deciding whether minimum, or threshold, standards can be defined for all graduates within and across disciplines takes a step forward today at the Higher Education Quality Council.
It aims to investigate output standards as opposed to course quality. The latter is the phrase used to describe the learning process rather than the end result.
The graduate standards steering committee is chaired by Bob Boucher, pro vice chancellor at Sheffield, and includes Kenneth Edwards, chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and John Stoddart, council chairman and principal of Sheffield Hallam University.
"The focus is to collect information which will enable a judgement to be made on the desirability and feasibility of establishing threshold standards in UK bachelor degrees," said Peter Wright, assistant director of quality enhancement at the council.
"We have got a number of projects under way and we want to draw on the expertise of our audit work," he said. The projects include working parties in different subject areas.
"We have not yet identified threshold standards - what we would be looking for would be the minimum that you expect a student to possess as a result of having gained a degree," said Dr Wright. "This could include some things specific to the subject, some common to a group of subjects, and it may well include some qualities one might expect any graduate to have if they have a degree."
The investigation follows former education secretary John Patten's call for universities to ensure "broad" comparability of standards, which was followed by a CVCP 11-point plan to check standards and quality.