Lancaster’s international partnerships packed with problems, new reports reveal

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On Thursday, Week 5, Lancaster University’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee discussed reports revealing the poor quality of the programmes delivered at the University’s international teaching partners. Reports found that at the G D Goenka World Institute in New Delhi, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Lahore and Sunway in Kuala Lumpur the quality delivered in teaching, examinations and marking was not in line with Lancaster standards. Problems included exams designed to test students’ memories rather than their understanding; the use of open-ended questions in exams; high failure rates and poor attendance.

While the feedback from G D Goenka showed that the majority of examiners thought that the standard of programmes being delivered were largely satisfactory and appropriately challenging, two examiners had different views. They believed there was evidence to show that the examinations were in fact too easy and felt that the learning outcomes were too low when compared to the level of assessment. The student performance was also questioned and was not felt to be at a level which was comparable to other institutions, a view supported by an internal moderator. One examiner also noted a poor level of student engagement on a particular module, which had high failure rates and poor attendance.

With regard to the postgraduate programmes at Goenka, one external examiner felt that the programmes were inappropriate for the student entry profile. They believed that the poor results in the first year module were a consequence of the mismatch in the entry qualifications on the course. The coursework marks however, were reasonable but there were doubts surrounding the use of group assignments at level 7. These assessments were not believed to be entirely appropriate in satisfying the learning outcomes of the individual students.

Likewise at COMSATS, by the end of the first semester external examiners for the Business Studies degree voiced their concerns about the standard of some Level 5 modules, especially when compared to similar degrees at Lancaster and other Higher Education institutions in the UK. While the standard of teaching was generally seen as satisfactory, one examiner observed that there was no evidence of this high standard when looking at student assessments. They commented on the nature of the assessments, saying they were inappropriate and appeared to be designed to test students’ memories, rather than their understanding. Module outlines were described as ‘very weak with little instruction given’ and it was felt that the mark schemes did not allow for the depth of response expected. Some examiners also felt that some modules did not allow for evaluation, critique and the application of theory to practice.

Within examinations, examiners found a lack of consistency as well as some clustering of marks. One examiner drew particular attention to a number of spelling and grammatical errors in the final exam paper as well as the use of open ended questions. With regard the quantitative and qualitative questions, examiners believed questions should be used to test a broader range of skills.

Regarding the assessment regulations at COMSATS, while the external examiner for the degrees in Engineering, Computing and Communication Systems felt they were mostly consistent and appropriate, they commented that in some programmes there were “many failures.” In spite of achieving an overall pass mark of 50%, many still failed. However, by the end of the second semester, external examiners reported they were satisfied by the actions taken by the University to resolve all of the issues mentioned in the report. They also expressed satisfaction with the assessment methods and procedures in place by the second semester.

While Sunway does not appear to have caused as much of a concern as Goenka or COMSATS one examiner was particularly worried by some students’ examination results, with the examiner also commenting on the inconsistency in students’ use of referencing, as well as the need for further improvements in critical thinking.

There have been issues for many years in ensuring partner universities deliver a course that matches the standards of Lancaster University, with some noting the lack of discussion of the risks involved in setting up partner universities across the world. University Senate – the academic authority of the University – has had very little debate as to the value of these international partnerships and the risks they entail.

In the University’s strategic plan for 2020, the University management pledge to “raise the profile and recognition of the University nationally and internationally” and to ensure “accountability, integrity and professionalism in how we operate, both in the UK and overseas.” Some members of the University have suggested that a failure to fulfil the latter pledge could endanger the former, raising questions as to the extent problems in teaching and examination could dent the University’s reputation on the international stage.

The partnership between Lancaster and The G D Goenka World Institute in New Delhi, India, was established in 2009 and combines the academic experience of staff from both institutions. It currently has over 450 students studying for a Lancaster University degree, offered in Mechanical Engineering, Electronic and Electrical Engineering as well as Computer Systems Engineering. If students are successful they will graduate with a Lancaster University degree. Goenka also offers a two year Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management (PGDBM) and a one-year taught Master’s programme in Management, which is taught by both Goenka and Lancaster staff.

GD Goenka, the company which co-founded the Institute with Lancaster, has recently set up its own independent university.

In 2010, Lancaster set up a similar partnership called the Dual Degree Programme with COMSATS Institution of Information Technology in Lahore, Pakistan. There are currently over 1800 students enrolled in the different dual degree programs which offer the chance to study Computer Science, Software Engineering, Business Administration, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering. All programmes here include teaching staff from Lancaster as well as Lahore and after completing the four year course at Lahore, successful students graduate with degrees from both universities.

Since 2006, Lancaster has been in partnership with Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Students are able to study for degrees in Business Studies, Business Management, Accounting and finance, Computer Technology, Communications, Hospitality, Psychology and Life Science. Upon successfully graduating students are awarded certificates from both Sunway and Lancaster University, making them graduates of both institutions.

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