NPC/04/05/B: Department for Education and Skills, Renewable Degree Awarding Powers, Discussion Paper

by Tim Brown

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is a charity with the aim to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated student representative bodies from across the UK; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We work closely with the National Union of Students and the lecturers unions as well as other bodies relevant to postgraduate education.

Response to Suggestions on Probationary Awarding

In the discussion paper, we found that there were the following two suggestions presented by DfES in terms of how to grant degree awarding powers on a short term.

1. That fixed term degree awarding powers are granted to any publicly funded institution or external organisation seeking to award degrees. At the end of that term, an audit will take place where indefinite degree awarding powers will be granted if successful.

2. That all publicly funded institutions/organisations be granted indefinite degree awarding powers and external organisations will have to go for the fixed term degree awarding powers.

We share the concerns of many responses where they see a risk of the reputation and implications for students that enrol on new degree course having some element of risk. In light of what institutions have said we felt a need to give our response to the above proposals from the postgraduate perspective.

In the first instance we strongly feel that any institution applying for degree awarding powers must give a firm, comprehensive and viable strategy plan, which should undergo analytical review by a body such as the Quality Assurance Agency. This blueprint should be used as a strict guide to ensure that institutions developing their degree awarding powers have a structured guideline to ensure they will meet the necessary requirements. Any failure to meet these guidelines should be used as an indicator by which the institution is failing in meeting the necessary requirements should they not be successful at an audit stage later on.

In terms of the two options, we are more supportive of the second option since this does give established institutions a more firm opportunity to achieve degree awarding powers. However, should they not be successful at audit stage, we do strongly recommend that such an audit ensures they can actively reform their standards as appropriate and give them direction and support in doing so. We are also concerned that strict measures are in place to prevent institutions that are overtly failing to deliver a degree course properly following guidance and warnings are noted in a way that this is transparent to students receiving the course.

In the interest of postgraduate degrees, it is likely that these courses for institutions seeking new degree awarding powers will have a small and selective intake, where infrastructure will not be anywhere near that of an established University. Strict regulations and auditing are both essential in this process.