Changes to ‘quangos’ revealing about policy interests.

‘Take the QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency. For more than 20 years it has done a decent job monitoring quality in universities. Despite complaints about bureaucracy, it has been fairly “light touch” recently. Once every five years or so it splurges on an audit of an institution; this involves lots of paperwork, admittedly.

Now that ministers talk about little else but “driving up standards”, which they have unilaterally and without material evidence defined as low, it might be thought that the role of the QAA would be reinforced. But no. Hefce (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) has discovered some “procurement rules” that require it to give Capita, Tribal and the usual consultancies an opportunity to replace the QAA.

The same Hefce has decided – backed by government – that it, the funding council, should be the “lead body” on quality. Hefce – as Dean Acheson, former US secretary of state, famously said of post-imperial Britain – is urgently seeking new roles now most of the funding, its original purpose, is channelled through student loans and fees, and it is not fussed about conflicts of interest.

Our purblind “top universities”, which seek not so much a light touch as an invisible one on quality, will quietly cheer. Insubstantial but glossy reports offering a clean bill of health would suit them fine. So money grubbing privatisation and donnish disdain for any meaningful scrutiny come together as unlikely bedfellows.’ - Guardian


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