Set the universities free


Dr Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, had an article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph responding to criticisms of British universities made by Peter Williams, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the QUANGO responsible for maintaining university standards. Kealey disputes his claim that universities are "rotten" basing grades on "arbitrary and unreliable", and says Williams would do better to focus on the real problem: namely, that students don't get enough contact with their teachers. The end of his article is particularly strong:

Williams is being political. The QAA is power-hungry and resents the autonomy our universities have retained in this target-driven world. He wants more bureaucracy and he wants his QAA to supply it.

The QAA is already too intrusive. The best universities are in America, yet American higher education bureaucracy is trivial. There are no external examiners at American universities, for example, and the US equivalents of the QAA are pussy cats - which is why American universities flourish.

The QAA and other bureaucracies damage higher education because universities flourish only by self-regulation. Universities do best when they are independent, because scholars are innately self-critical, so only when external agencies displace self-criticism with arbitrary ticks in boxes do standards slip.

It's the QAA, not our degree classification, that is arbitrary and unreliable.