Quality Assessment in Respect of Institutions without Degree-Awarding Powers

Part of Orders of the Day — Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 5th February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Mike Watson Mr Mike Watson , Glasgow Central 8:30 pm, 5th February 1992

I reinforce the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). We require answers on the issue because it was not discussed in Committee. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clear up a number of outstanding questions asked by previous speakers.

The Bill for England and Wales provides for the dissolution of the CNAA but the Bill under discussion does not mention it. The CNAA's tentacles stretch deeply into Scottish education and the knock-on effect is, therefore, obvious.

The quality assessment committees to be established by both Bills provide for quality assurances once the new universities have the right to award degrees, but a considerable gap remains to be filled and I hope that the Minister will go some way towards filling it this evening. What will happen when the Council for National Academic Awards is wound up later this year? That organisation has welcomed the proposals and the reforms contained in them but has expressed many anxieties. It has cautioned against the speed with which the Bill is being introduced, and that has been echoed by Opposition Members during Second Reading and in Committee. That will create concern among existing students and those applying for courses beginning later this year.

When the CNAA is wound up, many of the 300,000 students, UK-wide—some 10 per cent. of whom are in Scotland—will be some way short of completing their courses. They will be left in what has been termed the no man's land between being part of an institution with degree-awarding powers and a CNAA accredited course.

The proposed arrangements fail to cater for students enrolled in institutions which will not be given degree-awarding powers and which have been unable to forge a link with a degree-awarding institution before the start of the new academic session later this year. Also left high and dry are what the CNAA describe as the 500 research degree students registered by CNAA through non-educational establishments e.g. industrial, commercial or research laboratories and hospitals".

The CNAA has advocated that those students should be transferred to a national degree-awarding body such as the Open University. The Open University is ideally qualified to take on that role. The Labour party advocates that in the Bill on English and Welsh higher education. The suggestion is sensible and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about it. The Open University has the necessary expertise and range of courses. However, were it to take on that role, we would have to ask for what the Minister considers to be a dirty word-resources. It cannot be done without providing adequate resources. Many thousands of students deserve adequate accreditation for their courses and a clear idea of who will award their degrees. If that means additional resources, the Minister and the Government should face up to that throughout the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that there are about 40,000 students in the United Kingdom, a disproportionate number of whom attend Scottish institutions that will not receive degree-awarding status. Those students applied for and were accepted on courses to study for CNAA awards. They will now have no choice but to accept an award from whichever validating organisation the institution at which they are studying is able to find. That is a haphazard process—there is only a short time between now and September when the CNAA is to be wound up. Students applying for courses that start this autumn will enter a foggy area where there is no clear idea of what awards they can expect to gain, which is unsatisfactory and highlights the vacuum that will exist.

Attempts to find an academic partner to validate courses will be made more difficult by the unchallengeable fact that no existing degree-awarding institution has anything like the range of awards available through the CNAA, which relates to my remarks on the Open University. There is nothing like the spread of courses. Even our most esteemed academic institutions have nothing like the spread of courses that the CNAA offers.

What will happen to the institutions and students caught in that no man's land because the rules have been changed once the game is under way? That is not simply unfair, but unsettling for students and employers, who also need to know about the graduates who will be applying to them for posts during the next two years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West referred to an aftercare service, which will be of as much concern to employers as to students. The CNAA has brought together graduates and employers, but that role will disappear without any obvious replacement. The new clause provides a safety net to replace the ad hoc arrangements that appear to apply, at least in the intervening period. I hope that the Minister will answer the questions and be prepared to accept the new clause in the spirit in which it was intended so as to assist students, past and present, and the employers who hope to link up with them in the near future.