The qualities of validation
Demands for enhanced quality and quality control in higher education, such as those contained in the 1987 White Paper, often involve increased stress on validation. This emphasis on a peculiarly British system of peer review of courses suggests that an examination of some of the qualities of validation may be helpful in ensuring that it continues to achieve the ends expected of it. The structure of validation generally requires action at course (or department), faculty and institutional levels. Validation can operate in at least three modes: initial approval of new courses, regular monitoring of performance and intermittent but more intensive inspections of course organisation and achievement. In all three modes the basic structures function in a way that uses specific inputs, processes and outputs. Amongst the inputs are admissions, resources, staffing and curricula. The processes involve such feedback mechanisms as continuous assessment together with staff development. Training in validation skills is but rarely provided. Outputs are reviewed through final examinations, the external examiner system and outside visitations. The question which arises is whether this system is an adequate form of quality control. The conclusion is that, while it has certain methodological weaknesses, validation is a legitimate and defensible tool. But, if it is to succeed in new circumstances, more thought about its qualities and the means of developing them is necessary.
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