Assuring standards in UK Psychology degrees

Newstead, Stephen
University of Plymouth,

In recent years, UK higher education has become one of the most thoroughly inspected in the world, and psychology has not been exempt from this. Over the last ten years the following quality assurance mechanisms have been used:

  1. Assessment of every department’s research through the five-yearly Research Assessment Exercise
  2. Teaching Quality Assessments of every psychology department in the country involving week long visits
  3. Assessment of the scientific content of every degree to determine whether it merited funding as a science or a social science.
  4. Benchmarking of psychology degrees in an effort to define the knowledge and skills that psychology graduates can be expected to have.

And in addition to the above, the British Psychological Society continues to define the core content that psychology degrees should cover and has recently strengthened its procedures and introduced departmental visits.

In this presentation I will outline the way in which each of these works and what the implications are for individual members of staff and for psychology departments in general. My general conclusion is that these quality assurance mechanisms have all had positive effects but that these do not outweigh the cost, both human and financial, that each imposes.

Professor Stephen Newstead: Biographical notes

Stephen Newstead is Professor of Psychology at the University of Plymouth where he has worked for nearly thirty years. He was President of the British Psychological Society from 1995-1996, and served on the Psychology RAE panel in 1992 and 1996. He is currently a member of the HEFCE Research Committee and Chair of the ESRC Psychology Panel considering the recognition of postgraduate training programmes. He was a subject reviewer for psychology for psychology in both Wales and England and currently chairs the QAA Benchmarking Group. In 1999 he received the BPS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching of Psychology.

His research interests cover cognitive psychology, where he has published mainly on thinking and reasoning, and the psychology of higher education. In this latter area he has published on student motivation and approaches to learning, on the reliability of assessment, on student cheating, and on the measurement of high level abilities.