Monday, 26 December 2005

THE OPEN UNIVERSITY ACCREDITATION MODEL

A PERSONAL STATEMENT MADE MORE IN SORROW THAN IN ANGER

Earlier this month the Open University held a meeting with representatives of all its accredited institutions to tell them what it intends to do to deal with the "Limited Confidence" outcome of the audit of its collaborative provision undertaken by the Quality Assurance Agency last May. The result of this audit, and the manner in which the OU responds to it, are likely to have profound implications for the way in which all British institutions of higher education manage their collaborative arrangements in the future.

The "Limited Confidence" verdict cannot have come as any surprise to those familiar with OU procedures, as implemented through its validation arm, Open University Validation Services - OUVS.

When in 1992 the polytechnics were enabled to become universities, and were freed thereby from supervision by the Council for National Academic Awards, the CNAA itself was shut down. Realizing that this closure was going to leave a great many other mainly specialist institutions without anyone to award degrees to their students, the British government prevailed upon the OU to take on this role. So was born OUVS, whose methodology has until recently been based upon the CNAA model.

This model requires academic standards to be benchmarked against national norms, and places enormous responsibility on external examiners to ensure that these norms are adhered to in institutions that OUVS accredits. The major means by which OUVS assures itself that academic standards and quality of programme delivery are appropriate are the verdicts of the external examiners, and the annual monitoring reports that each accredited institution must provide.


The Open University itself, and its own academic staff, have historically taken little interest in the daily work of OUVS, which has been permitted an astonishing degree of independence from the university in whose name it grants thousands of degrees each year.

In the summer of 2003 this cosy arrangement was dealt a nasty blow. The QAA undertook an audit of a small Business programme that the OU, through OUVS, accredited for delivery at the Kolding institute in southern Denmark. The Kolding report (available on the QAA website at www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/reports/overseas/openuniversity_denmark03.asp) paints a picture of an institution that had minimal reporting lines to the university - the OU - that granted degrees to its students. OUVS appears to have taken little interest in the academic activities of the Danish institution. The external examiners' reports would not be read routinely by anyone in the university beyond the confines of OUVS. Kolding's annual monitoring reports might or might not be read at university level. Kolding itself apparently had no contact with the OU's own Business School. The final sentence of the audit report damned not merely the particular arrangements that the OU had in place at Kolding but, explicitly, the entire programme-validation model that OUVS operated at its accredited institutions.

The Kolding report painted a gloomy picture. But there was in fact no evidence that academic standards had been sacrificed or compromised. The reporting line from Kolding to the OU's headquarters in Milton Keynes needed repair and upgrading. But nowhere did the Kolding auditors declare that students were receiving OU degrees who did not actually deserve them. The auditors themselves were either unaware of the history of OUVS, and that it was the successor body to the CNAA, or deliberately chose to ignore this vital historical context. They brought to their work a narrow view, focused exclusively on the QAA's own preferred accreditation model. Their report reflected a total and totally uncritical acceptance of that model.

When the Kolding report was published the OU came out of its corner fighting. Whilst agreeing that procedures could be improved, and that the relationship between the OU, OUVS and accredited institutions could be strengthened, the accreditation model was defended.

Now, two years later, the model has been all but totally abandoned.

Last May the QAA audited the OU's entire collaborative provision. The audit team's report was published in October [www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/reports/institutional/OpenUni05/summary.asp]. Unsurprisingly, the accreditation model was again condemned. The language used by this latest team of auditors echoed that of the Kolding team. And in the wake of this latest "Limited Confidence" report the OU has rolled over. Practically every demand ("recommendation") of the QAA is to be met, in full. In the process the interests of the OU's 45 or so loyal accredited institutions are to be comprehensively sacrificed.

Of course this is not the way the OU is spinning the story. Representatives of accredited institutions whom senior OUVS officers met on 7 December were told that the OU's accreditation model would be preserved but that another, termed 'associate' status, was to be created, and that over a fairly limited period of time each accredited institution would be told whether it could remain 'accredited', or whether it was to become merely 'associated.' The associate model will - naturally - follow closely the diktats of the QAA as set forth in its October 2005 report. This will involve significant extra cost, which accredited - sorry, associated - institutions will have to bear.

Why the OU has decided to go down this route is a puzzle. Granted, a "Limited Confidence" verdict is unwelcome. But it is not the end of the world. The QAA is not the sole repository of wisdom on accreditation matters. QAA auditors are not infallible. It would be a very sorry state of affairs indeed were they to be encouraged to regard themselves as such.

Nor is the QAA-kitemarked accreditation model the only one that will guarantee a quality education grounded in robust academic standards.


Professor Geoffrey Alderman

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

CHIEF RABBI OF THE FEDERATION OF SYNAGOGUES

I have this week written to the President of the Federation of Synagogues in London asking him and his fellow Honorary Officers to fill the vacant office of "Rav Rashi" - Chief Rabbi - of the Federation.

In my letter I reminded the President (Mr Alan Findlay) that the last holder of this office was the late Dayan Michael Fisher.

The need for this office remains as strong now as at the time of its inception - if not stronger. As the Federation grows, and as its influence is felt more keenly in circles beyond the immediate confines of Anglo-Jewry, it needs a public focus, embodied in a rabbi of great sagacity with a strong national profile.

"The office has remained vacant for far too long [I have said]. It should be filled without further delay."

Sunday, 7 August 2005

MRS HELEN SAGAL

The following statement was issued on Friday 05 August 2005 by Professor Geoffrey Alderman:

"A month ago the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, publicly declared that he was unable to accept the validity of Mrs Helen Sagal's conversion effected by the official rabbinical authorities in Israel some fifteen years ago.

Prior to his delivery of this judgment I has applied, on Mrs Sagal's behalf, to the London Beth Din [over which Sir Jonathan presides] for the delivery to us of copies of every document in its possession relating to her case. This application was made on 20 June 2005 under the provisions of the Data Protection Act, 1998. Accordingly, that Act gave the Clerk to the Beth Din, Mr David Frei, 40 days to comply with this application.

On Saturday 30 July, some 41 days after the application, I received a package of materials from Mr Frei. These include notes handwritten by various Dayanim [Judges] relating to the case, and give a unique insight into the motives that led the Beth Din to advise Sir Jonathan to reject the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion. They also include hitherto unpublished correspondence, in Hebrew, between the religious authorities in London and Jerusalem.

I am sorry to say that this material confirms my original suspicion that the Beth Din was determined to find a reason for rejecting the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion. It also casts doubt on the claim made by Sir Jonathan that the religious authorities in Israel had somehow transferred to his Beth Din in London the authority to determine Mrs Sagal's Jewish status, perhaps with a view to revoking it. Especially revealing is a letter in Hebrew, marked "Not for Publication," from Dayan Menachem Gelley, of the Beth Din, to the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Amar (14 April 2005), asking that the authority to determine Mrs Sagal's Jewish status be transferred to the London Beth Din. No such sanction was in fact ever given.

Mrs Sagal holds both British and Israeli citizenship. In Israel her status as a Jewess remains unimpaired.


Having obtained provisional but authoritative legal advice, I can now announce that Mrs Sagal is actively considering instituting legal proceedings, either against Sir Jonathan for alleged defamation [inasmuch as he has denied, in public and in writing, that she is Jewish], and/or against him and/or his Beth Din (or certain members of the Beth Din) is respect of the alleged denial to her of her human rights.

I should add that the successful use in this case of rights conferred under the Data Protection Act is, I am told, the first occasion on which the Act has been invoked against a Beth Din in this country. I am also pleased to report that, subsequently, the Act has been invoked - also against the London Beth Din - in relation to a second, similar case in which I am advising."

[Note for Editors: Mrs Sagal, who lives with her Israeli husband and family in North London, was converted to Orthodox Judaism by the official ecclesiastical authorities in Israel in 1990. Last December, in connection with the application Mr & Mrs Sagal had made for their eldest son, Guy, to be admitted to the Jews' Free School, Kenton, the Office of the Chief Rabbi in London declined to accept the validity of this conversion.]

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

MRS HELEN SAGAL

Statement by Professor Geoffrey Alderman

The following statement was issued on Wednesday 06 July 2005 by Professor Geoffrey Alderman following a meeting that took place between Mr and Mrs Sagal and the Chief Rabbi to further explore the refusal of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to recognise Mrs Sagal's conversion effected in Israel some fifteen years ago.

"On Tuesday evening, 05 July 2005 I accompanied Mrs Helen Sgal and her husband, Israeli-born Mr Raoul Sagal, to a meeting with the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. The Chief Rabbi was accompanied by one of his Dayanim (Judges), Rabbi Ivan Binstock, and the Executive Director of his Office, Mrs Syma Weinberg. The meeting, which had been requested by the Chief Rabbi, took place in Mrs Weinberg's private residence, and lasted approximately 90 minutes.

At the meeting Sir Jonathan made a statement intended to justify the view that he and his Beth Din {Ecclesiastical Court] had taken, that the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion effected in Israel could not be accepted. He offered to personally oversee a fresh conversion process involving Mrs Sagal, her two sons and her as yet unborn child (whose birth is imminent), with the aim of establishing Mrs Sagal's Jewish status "beyond doubt."

Sir Jonathan acknowledged that his Office had authorised the ritual circumcision of Mr & Mrs Sagal's elder son, Guy, without bothering to inquire into the circumstances of Mrs Sagal's conversion.

The Chief Rabbi admitted that there had been serious deficiencies in the way his Office had handled the Sagal case, for which he apologised, and announced that one of his officials had been formally reprimanded. I welcomed this admission and offered my services, free, to put in place fresh administrative procedures that would ensure that the requirements of natural justice and English law were complied with in future such cases.

As to the matter of substance, I pointed out that irrespective of any view the Chief Rabbi personally might hold of the manner in which Mrs Sagal's conversion had been effected in Israel, the fact was that that conversion had not been revoked. I asked for an undertaking that if Mrs Sagal were to agree to a re-conversion in England, the Chief Rabbi would meanwhile give his certification to the Jews' Free School for the purpose of permitting her elder son, Guy, to enter this school in September. I regret that this undertaking was not forthcoming.

Mr Sagal and I both observed that the evident effect of the decision not to recognise, in England, Mrs Sagal's conversion in Israel must be to call into question hundreds - perhaps thousands - of Israeli conversions and to cause anguish to many Israeli families.

Whilst I am grateful - and said so - for the ongoing personal involvement of the Chief Rabbi in this case, I am very disappointed with the outcome thus far. We are in fact no further forward now than we were six months ago. I have therefore advised Mr & Mrs Sagal to seek immediate redress in the English courts.

[Note for Editors: Mrs Sagal, who lives with her Israeli husband and family in North London, was converted to Orthodox Judaism by the official ecclesiastical authorities in Israel in 1990. Last December, in connection with the application Mr & Mrs Sagal had made for their elder son, Guy, to be admitted to the Jews' Free School, Kenton, the Office of the Chief Rabbi in London declined to accept the validity of this conversion.]
l must be to call into question hundreds - perhaps thousands - of Israeli conversions and to cause anguish to many Israeli families.

Whilst I am grateful - and said so - for the ongoing personal involvement of the Chief Rabbi in this case, I am very disappointed with the outcome thus far. We are in fact no further forward now than we were six months ago. I have therefore advised Mr & Mrs Sagal to seek immediate redress in the English courts.

[Note for Editors: Mrs Sagal, who lives with her Israeli husband and family in North London, was converted to Orthodox Judaism by the official ecclesiastical authorities in Israel in 1990. Last December, in connection with the application Mr & Mrs Sagal had made for their elder son, Guy, to be admitted to the Jews' Free School, Kenton, the Office of the Chief Rabbi in London declined to accept the validity of this conversion.]

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

AUT BOYCOTT OF BAR ILAN AND HAIFA UNIVERSITIES

PERSONAL STATEMENT BY PROFESSOR GEOFFREY ALDERMAN

The following statement was issued by Professor Geoffrey Alderman in London, England, on Monday night, 25 April 2005, following the decision by the Association of University Teachers, taken at the AUT's Annual Conference on Friday 22 April, to boycott the Universities of Bar Ilan and Haifa:

"I am an AUT member of some 36 years' standing, and a former Chair of its London Committee.

I am shocked and saddened that at its annual conference last week, timed to coincide with the eve of the Passover fesival, the Association saw fit to pass two ill-considered and spiteful resolutions calling on AUT members to boycott two Israeli universities.

Leaving aside the legality of what the resolutions propose, in terms of relevant anti-discrimination, equal opportunities and employment legislation, I am saddened that the AUT has allowed itself to be used as the tool of those whose agenda is aimed at the denial of the right of Jewish national self-determination and I am shocked at the assault on academic freedom that these resolutions embody.

Academic freedom is about the free exchange of ideas. The record of Israeli universities in this regard is very strong - much stronger than the oppressive record of universities in the Arab and Islamic states that surround Israel, but about which the AUT seems unconcerned.

I understand that, following the passage of these resolutions, some colleagues have resigned their AUT membership. I do not intend to do so. Instead, I call upon my fellow AUT members to ignore the resolutions and to treat them with the contempt they deserve."

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

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