Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Quality assurance in higher education - academic integrity, grade inflation and next steps for the higher education credit framework

Morning, Wednesday, 24th March 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will examine the future of quality assurance in higher education, including discussion on:

  • regulating quality and standards in higher education
  • addressing essay mills and contract cheating
  • the Higher Education Credit Framework
  • tackling grade inflation

The agenda:

  • The quality of UK university courses and options for external assurance
  • Regulating quality and standards in higher education and developing a joined-up system
  • Addressing the use of essay mills and contract cheating in digital learning
  • Challenges for quality assurance in the wake of the pandemic - ensuring quality in digital learning, academic integrity in remote assessment, and emerging best practice
  • Review of the Higher Education Credit Framework - key findings
  • Ensuring the credit framework reflects the current provision of higher education
  • Degree apprenticeships, postgraduate study and the developing higher education landscape
  • Non-traditional delivery, micro-credentials and meeting the needs of industry and employers
  • Tackling grade inflation and next steps forward

Relevant developments:

  • the QAA review of the English academic credit framework - currently underway
    • accompanied by the Consultation on revised HE Credit Framework for England
    • with publication of the new credit framework due in the Spring
  • Consultation on regulating quality and standards in higher education - recently published by the OfS
  • Universities agree further measures to tackle grade inflation - announced by UUK and GuildHE as part of the ongoing review by the UKSCQA, with six new guiding principles in areas including reliability, fair balance in assessment, protecting standards, regular reviews, regard for impact on varying student groups, and clear communication
  • QAA Collaborative Enhancement Projects - funding quality improvement initiatives, in areas such as blended learning delivery and assessment, and modular qualification
  • Digital teaching and learning in English higher education during the coronavirus pandemic - the current review by the OfS
  • COVID-19 support: New QAA guidance for HE providers on maintaining quality and academic standards and QAA published guidance on assessing with integrity in digital delivery

Areas for discussion:

  • regulatory quality assurance in HE remote education - emerging approaches, strategies and best practice for regulators in continuing to enforce standards in the context of remote learning
  • challenges for providers - varied ways higher education providers can continue to meet the standards of the QAA Quality Code:
    • support for students - providing effective remote support, academic mentoring and confidence boosting, including to reduce the risk of anxious students resorting to academic misconduct
    • teaching styles - the ability of teaching staff to adjust to remote education
    • mitigating the impact of disadvantage - including ensuring remote education is accessible for disabled students and those experiencing digital poverty
    • hands-on disciplines - delivering programmes with significant practical elements
    • tackling misconduct:
      • with reports of increased use of essay mills amongst some students during the pandemic, and remote assessment predicted to continue to some extent post-pandemic
      • assessing safeguards and policies universities can employ to detect academic misconduct, such as online proctoring services and ensuring enforcing academic integrity is formally built into staff workload
  • a Higher Education Credit Framework fit for the future - ensuring that the new Framework aligns with the wider regulatory and policy landscape, and the needs of an increasingly diverse sector:
    • the evolving HE landscape - degree apprenticeships, fast-track degrees, micro-credentials, bite-sized education, non-traditional delivery of education, and a proliferation of HEPs
    • recent policy encouraging the nation to upskill - and with rising unemployment leading many to seek to enhance their skills and employability through further study
    • stand-alone micro-credentials - with increasing interest from employers as a quick way to upskill staff, how they can be accommodated in the context of a current framework that values credit as a part of a larger qualification, and reconciled into a coherent approach to accreditation more widely
  • grade inflation - assessing progress and discussing next steps for protecting the value of higher education qualifications, with the majority of providers now:
    • seeking to use the new UK-wide principles for effective degree algorithm design to drive up standards
    • intending to improve their external examiner process in terms of, for instance, asking examiners to reflect on trends in degree classification
  • the impact of the pandemic - on guarding the value of degrees, and how to ensure that recent pressures in areas such as staff workload and institution resources do not hamper continuing progress

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials from DfE and other Government departments and agencies, together senior university leaders and registry staff, student union representatives, edtech providers, course coordinators, teaching academics, teaching unions and other professional bodies, HE regulators, consultancies and think tanks along with commentators and reporters from national and trade media.  

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Professor Andrew Wathey

Chair, UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, and Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Northumbria University

Professor Sue Rigby

Vice-Chancellor, Bath Spa University and Board Member, Quality Assurance Agency

Professor Michael Draper

Dean, Regulations and Student Cases, Swansea University, Member for Academic Integrity, QAA Advisory Committee, and Consultant Expert, Education Unit, Council of Europe

Nick Holland

Competition and Registration Manager, Office for Students


Lord Storey

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, House of Lords

Lord Lucas

Vice Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Technology


Matt Jenner

Director, Learning, FutureLearn

Dr Michelle Morgan

Independent HE Consultant and Elected Council Member, UKCGE

Dr David Baume

Independent HE Consultant and Visiting Fellow, Centre for Distance Education, University of London