Validation Process in the UK

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by telefax, May 9, 2010.


Taking a degree from a university-validated school rather than a university is...

  1. A good option

    5 vote(s)
  2. A poor option

    4 vote(s)
  1. telefax

    telefax New Member

    I was always impressed by the system in the UK where large universities ‘validated’ the programs of smaller non-chartered schools and issued their degrees. As long as the arrangement wasn’t abused, it seemed a win-win: small schools could continue focusing on what they did well instead of having to risk losing focus by expanding and broadening to try to meet requirements for a royal charter, and large universities could include unique ‘added value’ programs in their lineup. The cases I was familiar with were partnerships between chartered universities and established theological schools that were recognised for their rigor and their faculty, like St. Johns College/University of Nottingham and Trinity College Bristol/ University of Bristol. In these cases, the faculty with expertise and ‘cachet’ that research students would want to study under are actually at the validated schools, not the validating university.

    Now I am not so sure.

    1. The University of Wales validation of numerous improperly screened schools revealed how the system could be manipulated to produce a cash cow for the university. The “BBC/Dragon’s Eye” expose of this led directly to the breakup of the University of Wales system, with the largest universities departing. Threads here and here.

    2. Some UK universities are validating corporate vendors rather than existing schools. There’s a recent thread on the validation of Laureate Online Education by the University of Liverpool.

    3. The now-victorious conservative party in the UK had stated their intent if elected to pull university status from the upgraded former polytechnics - some of which engage in the validation process of other schools. One wonders what will happen to students at validated schools if their university loses its university status.

    I am curious how other people see it. Since the poll feature is a bit reductionist, comments on your reasoning are appreciated.
  2. Woho

    Woho New Member

    best-researched/referenced-message-ever! that's how all papers should be written!

    (i guess it's a forum bug and highly unfunny when you read it, but still...)
  3. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    I can't vote because I know nothing about the system you are referring to (other than that it exists). However, I think your poll options are too few. They only allow those with polar opinions to make a satisfactory response... a suggestion might be to have a range, like:

    1. A very good option.
    2. A good option.
    3. An acceptable option.
    4. A poor option.
    5. A very poor option.

    Plus maybe something like:

    6. I don't care.
    7. I'm not sure.

    Just so that the people who want to vote but don't really have an opinion can have something to choose that won't mess up the results.

    My $00.02 :D
  4. Ian Anderson

    Ian Anderson Active Member

    This would have been my vote without further research because I'm not sure what you mean by "non-chartered schools."

    When I attended college in the UK a long time ago it was common practice for colleges to have independent instructors but to set the exams of U of London or those of a consortium of universities.
  5. telefax

    telefax New Member

    Good question. I'm not talking about a situation like that at the University of London, where a federal university issues the degrees for it's member colleges like Birkbeck or Heythrop. I'm referring to a university which holds a royal charter allowing it to issue degrees, and doing that on behalf of schools or corporate vendors which are not actually part of the university, and do not hold their own royal charter allowing them to issue their own degrees. Does that help?
  6. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    Excellent thread topic. I didn't vote in your poll since I think that validated programs can be great choices in some cases and less than great choices in others, depending on the details.

    An example that I like is Christie's Education:

    They offer four different masters degrees in Arts of Europe, in Art, Style and Design, in Modern and Contemporary Art, and in Arts of China. All of these are validated by the University of Glasgow, which reportedly is strong in Art History (best in the UK in the RAE, so they say). My point here is that it's easy to see what Christies brings to the table. They are at the center of the whole world's art trade and have hundreds of works, oftentimes masterworks, passing through their hands all the time.

    Interestingly, Christies in New York offers a masters degree in Modern Art, Conoisseurship and the History of the Art Market that in this case isn't validated by a university, but offered by Christie's itself and accredited by the NYRegents.

    The NYRegents seem to emphasize programs like this, offered by institutions that aren't primarily universities or degree-grantors in their own right, but that nevertheless have big-time reputations in their fields of scholarship and expertise. There's the American Museum of Natural History's in-house PhD in Comparative Biology and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's PhD in Molecular Biology. If these were located in the UK, they would doubtless be validated by a university. NYRegents seems to let these specialized non-university degree-providers get by with less administrative top-end than the regional accreditors would expect to see. Fewer committees, administrators, procedures and bureaucratic expense. I wonder if London's British Museum or the Natural History Museum offer any in-house degree programs. If they do, then they are doubtless validated by one of the prestige universities.

    I think that validation works very well when universities reach upwards to grasp onto another institution that's especially prominent in some field. It works well when the reach is lateral, when a school extends its umbrella over an equally prestigious outside museum, laboratory, medical facility or other specialized institution. But in these kind of cases, the institution that's being validated is bringing strengths of its own into the alliance. Students will want to inform their prospective employers that they studied at the validated institution and the employers are apt to be impressed. The reasons for the validation arrangement are clearly justifiable in academic terms.

    That's where I start to like validation a lot less. Unfortunately, British universities (like universities here in the US) are facing budget cuts. There's lots of pressure going out from Westminster for universities to become more entrepeneurial and to generate more of their budget themselves. And inevitably, some of the universities seem to be taking new looks at their validation units and evaluating them as potential profit-centers.

    Suppose that they can find independent non-degree-granting education providers that are willing to assume most of the cost of developing and running new programs, leaving the university with a modest oversight function. In return the external provider gets the opportunity to offer degree programs with a well-known university's desirable and highly marketable name affixed to them. And the university ends up raking in a nice fee for every student enolled. It can be pretty lucrative, I imagine. There could be billions of pounds in it for ambitious universities if it can be scaled up.

    The University of Wales has already validated about 120 providers in dozens of countries all around the world to award its degrees and seems well on the way to becoming the UK's answer to the University of Phoenix. The University of Liverpool's validation unit has been pretty aggressive too. This isn't the first time that Degreeinfo has encountered its tracks. In fact, the same individual who thought up the glossy Liverpool accreditation stickers that America's unaccredited Trinity College and Seminary was at one time selling to its graduates went on to become the chairman of the UK's Council of Validating Universities, lauded for his innovative thinking on monetizing university validation units. There are many old threads about that.

    I want to emphasize that I don't think that there's anything remotely millish about Liverpool hiring Laureate to teach their DL business programs. (Assuming that's what's happening here, which isn't entirely clear.) As long as the QAA keeps a sharp eye on what's happening, it's definitely equivalent to American RA. It might even turn out to be a very cool thing, if Laureate brings valuable strengths of its own to the alliance.

    I'm just reacting to some of the posts here on Degreeinfo. The University of Liverpool's name is being paraded around like a flag. Rankings! Nobel prizes! The whole idea that Walden could ever be compared with Liverpool is simply laughable. Never mind that Walden's corporate parent is apparently the company that's been hired to offer Liverpool's programs. Sadly, we don't know what Laureate's precise function is in what ostensibly are Liverpool degree programs, so it's hard to say for sure what that means.

    To conclude, I don't think that validation works very well when universities reach downwards, when a reasonably prestigious university starts awarding its degrees to graduates of separate education providers that would be less prestigious and impressive if they were standing on their own and judged by their own merits. In those cases, it can start to resemble a classic bait-and-switch.
  7. telefax

    telefax New Member

    Thanks, Bill. Good discussion and some interesting examples I hadn’t heard of.

    There seem to me to be some similarities between the concepts of validation and distance learning. Both have interesting potential that would inevitably be misused once people realized their profit-making potential. I can recall when my knowledge of the world of distance learning was primarily the University of London, University of South Africa, and CSU, Dominguez Hills. In recent years, the field seems to have been swamped by empire-building schools with predatory recruiting, financial aid abuses, and low academic standards. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see the same trend emerging with validation.

    Yes, that’s the big question. I hope they can do it.

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