University bent rules to set up accountancy deal
(by Phil Baty, Times Higher Education Supplement, 22 Oct 1999, p. 9)

Middlesex University bent its own quality control rules to set up a deal to offer degree in partnership with the professional accountancy body, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Under Middlesex's arrangement any ACCA-qualified accountant is automatically awarded 300 credits towards the 360-credit degree in accounting.  On payment of £1,500 ACCA-qualified accounting  technicians can obtain a full Middlesex degree by completing the remaining 60 credits through a  three part  distance learning course, under credit accumulation and transfer arrangements.

But the university regulations state that no more than two-thirds of the credits required for a Middlesex degree can be brought in from out-side.  At least a  third must be delivered direct by Middlesex.

The ACCA deal means that only a sixth is delivered by Middlesex.  The university admitted to The THES that the arrangement is "outwith the university's regulations".  A spokeswoman said that an exception had been made.

The academic planning committee "required that a case [for the deal] be made" to the academic board.  The spokeswoman said the board accepted the deal "on an exceptional basis".  She said: "Any exceptions to the university's regulations go through the same route and cases have to be duly substantiated, as they  were in this case."

The university has confirmed that it has no role in the quality control, curriculum design or content of the ACCA courses.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has no cheek on the ACCA syllabus' examination or teaching methods.

Middlesex maintain that it is in line with "every other United Kingdom university in "acknowledging/accepting the quality of [the ACCA] programme by accepting their students into postgraduate programmes. However, some universities do not accept ACCA qualifications at face value.

Prem Sikka, Professor of accounting at Essex University, said, 'We do not automatically accept their qualifications.  ACCA graduates tend not to have an awareness of academic theory and are unlikely to have read anything other than official accounting stuff."

A submission from the ACCA to the Canadian International Qualifications Appraisal Board (IQAB) for formal recognition of ACCA qualifications was rejected earlier this year. The IQAB said  that "higher level cognitive skills are not tested adequately" by
the ACCA and the majority of ACCA members do not possess degrees.

Further details of the programme have caused controversy.  When the distance learning programme began in 1997-98 with only 19 students, Middlesex decided to outsource administration.

A company called Distance learning Administration Associates was hired to do administration and distribute course materials.  Students were told to send coursework to a Post Office box number, registered to Middlesex University Business School, at a small business centre in Harrow.

The university declined to reveal how much has been spent on the programme, but it is understood that costs - including payments to DLAA - outweighed fee income of about £36,000.  The outsourcing has now been scrapped. "The relatively small number of students made it uneconomical," said the spokeswoman  She declined to answer the following questions:

? For how long has the ACCA students', distance learning course had an external examiner?
? Were staff being offered additional payments, on top of their usual salaries, for teaching and curriculum design work for the programmes?

Geoffrey Alderman, pro vice-chancellor responsible for quality at Middlesex University, declined to comment.