Buzzwords are not enough

Deborah Cameron ("The tyranny of Nicespeak", 5 November) can have little recent experience of quality assurance in higher education if she believes that writing a self-assessment is simply a matter of stringing together a series of content-free buzzwords, and that what is being assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency is "not what happened in lecture halls, labs and seminar rooms", but whether "the university speaks the approved managerialist language".

If this were the case, the QAA would not be expending a great deal of effort on training academic reviewers to deconstruct self-assessments; nor would it be sending them into institutions to observe classes in action, to scrutinise students' written work, talk to staff and in general get a feel for the real quality of the student experience. In fact, the whole QAA approach is based on seeking "evidence" for any assertions made - the complete opposite of Professor Cameron's caricature of the process. Moreover, reviewers are practising academics - not a group famously co-operative in dancing to anyone else's tune. In my experience, they bring to the review process the same rigour that they would apply to their own disciplines, and a highly developed ability to detect bullshit (to use a plain and jargon-free term).

If Professor Cameron's department tries to construct its next self-assessment along the lines she advocates, it may be in for an unpleasant surprise come the day of its review visit.

Dr Clare Morris
Director of academic quality
Cardiff Business School

A few years ago, I was sitting on a coach in Poland, waiting for it to depart for a visit to a concentration camp. An American lady joined the bus just before it left. Her friend waved goodbye and shouted out: "Enjoy!" Such are the depths that "Nicespeak" can reach.

Ivor Morgan
Lincoln

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back