You are in :


Subject Overview Report

Reference QO 4/96

Date November 1996

Quality Assessment of Iberian Languages and Studies

Assessing the Quality of Education

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) assesses the quality of the higher education (HE) in England for which it provides funding. It also undertakes quality assessments in the Northern Ireland universities by arrangement with the Department for Education Northern Ireland (DENI). The purposes of quality assessment are: to ensure that the public funding provided is supporting education of an acceptable quality, to provide public information on that education through the publication of reports, and to provide information and insights to encourage improvements in education.

The main features of the quality assessment method are:

Assessment against Aims and Objectives

The HE sector is diverse. The Council funds education in 136 institutions of HE and 74 further education (FE) colleges. These institutions vary greatly in size, subject provision, history and statement of purpose. Each has autonomy to determine its institutional mission, and its specific aims and objectives at subject level.

Assessment of the Student Learning Experience and Student Achievement

Quality assessment examines the wide range of influences that shape the learning experiences and achievements of students. It covers the full breadth of teaching and learning activities, including: direct observation of classroom/ seminar/workshop/laboratory situations, the methods of assessing students' work, students' work and achievements, the curriculum, staff and staff development, the application of resources (library, IT, equipment), and student support and guidance. This range of activities is captured within a core set of six aspects of provision, each of which is assessed using a four-point assessment scale - (1 to 4, in ascending order of merit) - to produce a graded profile of the provision.

The aspects of provision are:

Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation

Teaching Learning and Assessment

Student Progression and Achievement

Student Support and Guidance

Learning Resources

Quality Assurance and Enhancement.

Each grade indicates the contribution made by that aspect to the attainment of the aims and objectives. Provided that each aspect is graded 2 or better, the quality of education is approved. The Council does not believe that aggregating the six grades in the profile produces meaningful comparative information; any such exercise is misplaced as each assessment is made against the individual provider's stated aims and objectives.

Assessment by Peer Review

Assessors are academic and professional peers in the subject. Most are members of the academic staff of UK HE institutions. Others are drawn from industry, commerce, private practice and the professions.

Combination of Internal and External Processes

The assessment process has three stages:

  • Preparation by the subject provider of a self-assessment in the subject, based on the provider's own aims and objectives, and set out in the structure provided by the core set of aspects of provision.
  • A three-day assessment visit carried out by a team of assessors. The assessment team grades each of the aspects of provision to make the graded profile of the provision, and derives from that profile the overall judgement.
  • Quality assessment reports that are published following individual assessment visits. These reports form the basis of the subject overview reports. For the purpose of quality assessment, some institutions chose to join together more than one subject. Readers, therefore, may wish to consult more than one overview report, in order to obtain a broad view of the subject area. The subject overview reports are distributed widely to schools and FE colleges, public libraries and careers services and are available on the world-wide web

Subject Overview Report

Iberian Languages and Studies


The assessors find the overall quality of the higher education provision in Iberian languages and studies to be sound and much is of high quality. All 21 single-subject assessments in Iberian languages and studies, including one with Italian, are approved. Iberian languages and studies were also assessed as part of 38 joint visits in modern languages and only in one instance is the overall provision not approved, being subject to reassessment. In all, 37 subject assessors undertook assessment visits. The Overview Report outlines the main findings of the assessments. It discusses the quality of the students' learning experience for Iberian languages and studies, identifies good practice, and indicates where improvements might be made.

The aims and objectives of Iberian languages and studies emphasise the diversity, flexibility and accessibility of learning opportunities. Overall, the curricula and syllabuses are consistent with these aims and objectives. The subject is offered widely, and is of a diverse nature. The students' experience of teaching, learning and assessment is a most positive one. However, in a minority of cases, the assessors found a lack of intellectual challenge. Many providers have developed appropriate strategies for developing transferable skills. Student progress is monitored carefully in most institutions. Students satisfactorily complete their courses with good results, graduating to a wide variety of jobs. Students are generally well supported during their courses and there is a strong rapport with teaching staff. The majority of institutions have effective quality assurance systems which underpin the quality of Iberian languages and studies. A minority are in a transitional stage, moving from informal to more rigorous, formal mechanisms.

A major feature of the provision is the year spent abroad. This is much valued by students; however, more careful integration and monitoring is often required. An encouraging feature to emerge from the assessment visits is the overall quality of the teaching and learning. Some language teaching, often undertaken by language assistants, might be improved. This could be achieved by broadening staff development activities, based upon best practices observed. Particularly where institutions are committed to widening access, a significant number of ab initio (beginners) students are recruited. Evidence indicates that these beginners progress well and attain results at the end of their studies comparable with those students starting with prior knowledge and experience.

Learning resources are being developed continually to support Iberian languages and studies. Libraries are mainly well stocked. There is a growing use of computer-assisted language learning (CALL), developments in multi-media, and the use of satellite broadcasts. In contrast, however, language laboratories are sometimes under-utilised. There are many examples of the scholarship and research interests of staff feeding into the curriculum, extending and enriching the provision. Providers have adopted a range of strategies in arriving at balances between breadth and depth in the curriculum. Consequently, Iberian languages and studies students have genuine choice. Overall, the subject area is attractive to a range of students, including those with non-standard entry qualifications, and is taught by enthusiastic and caring staff, committed to the enhancement of Iberian languages and studies.


1. This Overview Report presents the findings of the assessment in 1995-96 of the quality of higher education provided in Iberian languages and studies by universities and colleges in England and Northern Ireland. It has been derived from the reports of assessment visits which were for the single subject (single) and from reports for joint modern language (joint) visits where Iberian languages and studies formed part of the provision (Annex A).

2. Iberian languages and studies is offered in a variety of contexts by the providers. At undergraduate level, it can be studied as a single honours degree, as a partner discipline in joint and combined programmes and as a component of modular degrees. In addition to the study of the Spanish language, some institutions offer undergraduates opportunities to study another Iberian language, such as Catalan or Portuguese. With a few exceptions, the providers offer programmes covering the history and culture of the Iberian peninsula and some offer specialisms in the study of Latin America.

3. A total of 21 self-assessments for Iberian languages and studies, including one with Italian, were received from providers in England and Northern Ireland; these were assessed as a single provision. A further 38 self-assessments were received where Iberian languages and studies formed part of a joint assessment. Information from these joint language assessments as it relates to Iberian languages and studies is also contained in this Overview Report. Each provider was visited by an assessment team, led by a reporting assessor (Annex B).

4. The assessors observed a wide variety of classes, including lectures, language classes, laboratory workshops, seminars and tutorials. In total, over 400 teaching sessions were observed. There were opportunities to observe students working in language laboratories, but it was not possible to observe students who were abroad studying the language and culture of the country. Examination scripts, coursework, dissertations and reports from the year abroad were evaluated. The assessors met students, graduates, staff and employers, and scrutinised a range of documents, including subject and course reviews, external examiners' reports and policy documents.

Aims and Objectives

5. Many extracts from institutional mission statements preface the aims and objectives for Iberian languages and studies. They indicate how institutions seek to provide high-quality learning opportunities which foster intellectual growth and practical skills, as well as personal and interpersonal development, allowing students to obtain a rounded education.

6. The clarity of the statements of aims and objectives varies; some are clear and precise while others do not adequately differentiate between the aims and the objectives. In several instances they overlap and in a few cases written expression is laboured, sometimes because of the complexity of the provision being described or a lack of clarity in the underlying thoughts being expressed.

7. The subject-specific aims emphasise the diversity, flexibility and accessibility of learning opportunities and the fact that they are specifically tailored to meet students' needs. They also stress the commitment to fostering independent learning, widening access for mature students and others with non-standard entry qualifications, and supporting equal opportunities, personal enrichment and educational links at local, national and international level.

8. Not all providers separate aims for undergraduate and postgraduate provision. Those which deal explicitly with postgraduate aims tend to stress 'advanced understanding' and 'capacity for research'.

9. A number of providers, mainly from the former UFC sector, place considerable stress on academic expertise, intellectual rigour and a research culture. Some former PCFC institutions also state the importance of research in addition to a wide portfolio of activities and transferable skills underpinning data analysis, essay/report writing and critical evaluation of evidence. Aims vary in their ambition; some seek to achieve 'excellence', 'the highest levels of competence' and 'near-native competence', whilst others seek to 'give an insight', 'reach a high standard' and 'achieve proficiency' in the language or subject.

10. Objectives tend to be expressed in terms of learning outcomes. All objectives stress 'high standards' and the attainment of high levels of competence in language and non-language studies. Some seek to achieve 'the highest level', 'near-native competences', and a few include reference to 'communicative skills'. The objectives for non-language studies are expressed in terms of developing in students a 'general appreciation' or 'understanding', or a wide 'knowledge' of the cultures, histories and societies of the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian worlds. The curricular definition of the latter as a field of enquiry varies widely, with some acknowledging the striking diversity of Hispanic communities in different parts of the world and others settling for a narrower, more conventional view of Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

11. Personal/interpersonal skills development, the fostering of critical analysis, communicative effectiveness in the chosen language and transferable skills form part of most providers' objectives. However, in only a few instances are transferable skills explicitly identified. Acquiring information technology (IT) skills is a specific objective in a few cases; less than half refer to students' preparation for further study or postgraduate research.

12. Most providers refer to the importance of the world of work, the local community, and national and international/European co-operation, though there are few clear statements on how these objectives are to be achieved.

Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation

13. The assessors found the curriculum design, content and organisation in Iberian languages and studies to be a strength of the provision, with 24 per cent of single visits to providers receiving grade 4, 71 per cent grade 3 and 5 per cent grade 2. On the joint visits including Iberian languages and studies, 21 per cent received grade 4, 63 per cent grade 3 and 16 per cent grade 2. The curriculum varies according to the type of institution, degree structure in which Iberian languages and studies are located and the mix of subject areas covered (Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian, Latin American, or joint modern languages). Nearly all institutions operate some form of modular or course-unit system, based on various credit accumulation and transfer models. In a few cases, problems arise from a lack of consistency in credit ratings between almost identical language/content courses in Iberian and other language provision. In general, Iberian curricula are well structured; however, there is often a noticeable lack of explicit curriculum planning and clearly defined review mechanisms. Strategies to evaluate existing courses and develop and monitor new ones would be beneficial in such instances.

14. Iberian curricula are generally wide ranging and very attractive to students. In general, most modular systems include courses in the first year that form the curricular core; in years two and four, core units are offered alongside a number of options. In only a few cases are there options in the first year and these take the form of half-courses or 'tasters', allowing students to sample various areas of study before committing themselves to more specialised work. Courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level are well designed, taught and delivered. Single-subject provision normally offers a greater choice of optional courses. In a few cases, single-subject provision is criticised for offering an overly prescriptive, limited language/literature/history-based curriculum, with students requesting greater choice and access to business and commerce-oriented courses. Other criticisms arise because options are too few in respect of the aims and objectives set, are not always available or fail to present students with sufficient intellectual challenge.

15. The introduction of a modular approach has in some cases created strains and pressures, particularly work overload for students and staff, and, in some instances, has created rigidity in the way the curricula are delivered. A few providers are criticised for the lack of intellectual and academic challenge of some units and the occasional lack of connection between the course content and the subject or research expertise of staff.

16. Postgraduate provision, where such provision exists, mainly takes the form of a taught masters (MA) degree programme, comprising one year full-time or two years part-time study. The MA, whether specifically within Iberian languages and studies or as part of a larger cross-disciplinary package, is usually made up of a core, involving a compulsory research methods course, and another one or two units in the first half of the course. The second half tends to comprise several options, plus a dissertation. There is widespread satisfaction with the design and delivery of taught postgraduate courses, despite some concern expressed over the tendency of course planners to offer undergraduate options as components in some postgraduate portfolios. Whilst acknowledging the gains in diversity and spread of options available, the assessors question the suitability of final-year undergraduate courses forming part of an MA package, in terms of challenge and the advanced nature of the study.

17. High-quality staff scholarship and research facilitates curricular innovation at undergraduate and postgraduate level giving rise, for example, to new courses in film, media and cultural studies and refocusing more traditional courses by way of a thematic thread. The research environment for both staff and students is often enhanced by high-profile speakers, as well as cross-discipline curricular ventures, international links and cultural activities.

18. In half the single visits, the assessors drew attention to a need for clearer curricular design so that students have an outline of the linguistic objectives they are meant to achieve. A clearer curricular design would also develop an understanding of the knowledge base and theoretical insight into linguistic concepts which explain the language that native speakers manipulate intuitively. Many institutions are trying to address these issues, improve grammatical knowledge and establish clear progression from one year to the next. In 35 per cent of institutions, the challenge of integrating ab initio students is still being resolved and the advantages and disadvantages of teaching them with more advanced students remains an issue.

19. Non-language courses are successful, much enjoyed by students and have many positive strengths in their design. Examples of good or innovative practice are widespread and include incorporating new courses in CALL and multi-media studies into language programmes, as well as new knowledge-based courses in art, architecture, film, media and literary theory.

20. The year abroad is an area that presents major challenges to virtually all providers. In many cases, the year abroad or a study period spent at a foreign institution is an integral part of the curriculum. Often though, the aims and objectives of the period abroad are not fully identified and explained to students; the assessment, certification, monitoring, quality control and outcomes expected are also often vague and undeveloped. Many institutions are criticised for their lack of design, planning, operation and evaluation of the period abroad and its place within the curriculum as a whole. The key issues are: greater clarity on the role of the third-year dissertation, where applicable; the monitoring of students in foreign universities on placements; the organisation of work placements or paid employment abroad; and the virtual absence of significant curricular integration and accreditation links with foreign institutions by Iberian providers.

21. With one exception, the assessors are concerned over the health and vitality of Portuguese studies. In some cases, owing to a lack of staff, the breadth and variety of course choices available to students of Spanish, especially second and final-year options, is not available to students of Portuguese.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

22. For this aspect, 24 per cent of providers receiving single visits were awarded grade 4, 66 per cent grade 3 and 10 per cent grade 2. On the joint visits where Iberian languages and studies formed part of the assessed provision, some 16 per cent were grade 4, 81 per cent were grade 3 and 3 per cent grade 2.

23. The assessors observed examples of outstanding teaching, frequently informed by high-quality staff scholarship and research, and employing original and innovative methods. This was particularly evident in specialist areas, for example in languages such as Portuguese and Catalan. There is considerable variety in the teaching and learning methods and these are well matched generally to the stated objectives. Many providers are promoting the development of group and team teaching and various forms of independent or open learning; however, the implications of this last approach are not always fully understood, and in some cases work remains to be done on the best ways of integrating it into a provider's overall programme. Some innovative and highly successful bilingual classes were observed, where the presence of visiting foreign students was exploited to the advantage of all.

24. The assessors expressed concern about the number of institutions in which a teacher-centred approach with limited student participation still prevails. A further concern is the integration, after varying lengths of time, of ab initio students with those entering with prior knowledge. In the best cases, this assimilation is carried out very successfully, but some providers need to give more thought to strategies for achieving such integration.

25. In language teaching, some disparity was noted in the use of the target language. On many visits, the assessors found evidence of its thoughtful, effective and regular employment, but there were some instances when its use was limited, ineffective and sometimes inaccurate. The occasionally ineffective teaching of grammar and punctuation was an example of this.

26. An area of particular concern is the proportion of single-subject visits (some 25 per cent) where the assessors considered that students were being insufficiently or inappropriately challenged. The tendency in some institutions towards teacher-dominated classes, already noted, was felt to leave insufficient room for students to become involved in class or to develop critical and analytical skills through independent research.

27. Some high-quality and up-to-date teaching materials were seen, including innovative, challenging and stimulating language courses produced by staff. In a minority of cases, the assessors commented on out-of-date or inappropriate language-teaching materials and reading lists. Given the excellence of some of the resources produced by staff, investigation of means to disseminate best practice throughout the system, as well as within individual institutions, would be beneficial.

28. Staff in many institutions displayed good room and equipment management skills, but there were instances in which best advantage was not taken of all the resources available. In this, as in other areas relating to teaching skills, the assessors suggest that more training of part-time staff and language assistants in particular would be of benefit.

29. Most institutions have developed effective assessment procedures, which are appropriately varied and well matched to the teaching and learning needs of students. Students in the majority of institutions receive sensitive and useful feedback on work submitted, which is carefully marked, and has detailed, helpful and informative comments. The assessors are of the opinion, however, that some providers could give more energy to formulating and disseminating consistent marking criteria. The use of a narrow band of marks was particularly noted in some specialist areas, and in a minority of cases the range of assessment methods was considered to be insufficiently varied; there is a need to identify a more coherent assessment strategy, with clear criteria, consistently applied. In some institutions, the assessment of the period of study abroad needs to be more effectively integrated.

Student Progression and Achievement

30. The assessors were very positive about this aspect, with 66 per cent of providers receiving single-subject visits awarded grade 4 and the remainder awarded grade 3. On the joint visits including Iberian studies and languages, 29 per cent received grade 4 and 71 per cent grade 3. The demand for courses in Iberian languages and studies is increasing, an indication of their popularity amongst applicants. Recruitment is buoyant for some single honours courses, whilst others are maintaining a sound level of applications. The strongest take-up is in courses in combination with other subjects (not exclusively languages). Many institutions have achieved notable success in recruiting substantial numbers of mature entrants and students with non-standard entry qualifications through broadening the base from which students are traditionally drawn. Female students significantly outnumber male students. Where taught masters programmes exist, small numbers are recruited, with one notable exception which specialises in postgraduate programmes in translation.

31. In a competitive market, institutions have adopted varying means of encouraging applicants to take up offers, including one-to-one interviews, the promise of a flexible attitude to course changes, and ab initio facilities. Modular programmes, particularly those featuring in the joint visits, are perceived to be attractive to mature students and students with non-standard entry qualifications. Traditional specialist provision continues to appeal to GCE A-Level entry students, although not exclusively. Many institutions believe that visits to their campus constitute a decisive factor in swaying a student to choose them in preference to another provider.

32. The entry qualifications for specialist courses in Iberian languages and studies tend to be GCE A-Level points scores in excess of 20; the average is over 22, with some institutions achieving 26 or better. Institutions assessed on joint visits generally welcomed all motivated applicants. Cohorts of well-qualified students in the specialist areas are predominantly obtaining Upper Second class honours degrees or better. In a number of institutions, the number of Firsts awarded has risen dramatically; the 1995 figures show an increase of as much as 10 per cent over those of two years earlier. Third class awards or lower are very rare.

33. The acquisition of language skills is seen to be at the heart of the provision in Iberian languages and studies, with the objective of fluency in the chosen language. The evidence reveals that students achieve comparable quality in both written work and oral performance throughout the sector. A practice particularly commended by external examiners in more than one institution is the award of distinctions in oral Spanish to students at the end of their course. A crucial element is the role of the year abroad, perceived by some providers as a much prized and essential element of the undergraduate course. Some institutions have been quicker than others in defining the function of the year abroad, by linking it to the ERASMUS programme. For example, one institution has made arrangements for students taking business Spanish to gain qualifications from the Madrid Chamber of Commerce.

34. Students' progression is monitored and the introduction of such bodies as progression committees is testimony to this. Students are appreciative of the monitoring they receive. With most providers, there is a good rapport between staff and students, which supports high levels of attainment.

35. Some institutions offer an ambitious programme to ab initio students. There is evidence that ab initio students are provided with more intensive guidance than their GCE A-Level entrant counterparts, and in consequence the quality of the learning experience of these students is enhanced. Institutions vary in the year in which ab initio students integrate fully with GCE A-Level entrants, some postponing full integration until after the year abroad. In the final examinations, the performance of both cohorts is generally indistinguishable, a feature which the institutions find most satisfying.

36. Throughout the sector, providers have become aware of the need for their students to acquire and develop IT and other transferable skills, which are built into many subject aims and objectives. Students value these, particularly when they are related, as in examples of best practice, to skills that will be an asset in their future careers. Some institutions are alert to shortcomings in this area, particularly in IT, and are implementing recommendations made in internal audits.

37. Career statistics for graduates in Iberian languages and studies are favourable, although traditionally in this discipline, specific links with employers are often limited. Iberian graduates gain employment in a diversity of areas. In a long-established department, statistics revealed that 15 per cent continue in higher education, 15 per cent go into business and finance, 16 per cent into marketing, 17 per cent into service industries and 25 per cent into teaching. A number of graduates go overseas, mainly to Spain and Latin America (some returning to where they had spent their year abroad), before looking for permanent employment in the UK.

Student Support and Guidance

38. This aspect of the assessments achieved high grades, with 66 per cent of the single visits to providers awarded grade 4 and 34 per cent grade 3, but it is seldom mentioned specifically in the self-assessments. On the joint visits, 76 per cent received grade 4 and 24 per cent grade 3. There is clearly substantial attention given to the support of students in its widest sense, and some institutions have been ingenious and innovative in the provision of this aspect. Open days are normally supplemented by induction weeks which are considered most useful by Iberian languages and studies students. The activities include meeting the academic staff, distributing course materials, familiarisation activities and social integration.

39. Current practice throughout the sector is that informative and comprehensive handbooks are provided (for a fee in some cases), but some are criticised as being too lengthy. Despite efforts made to encourage students to be more self-supportive, there is heavy reliance on personal contact with staff. Effective personal tutor systems are clearly valued and used to facilitate early action in problem cases. Student-staff relations in Iberian languages and studies are commented upon positively; this feature of the provision shows the subject area in a particularly favourable light. Comments such as 'mutual trust and respect', 'students feel they are known and valued as people', 'warm and productive relations', 'sociable and supportive atmosphere' and 'approachability of staff' abound. Even where numbers of students are large, staff strive to maintain a tutorial system, on both a personal and an academic level, as it is perceived as being a cornerstone of their policy.

40. Support for the year abroad is a problematic area. Examples of best practice in the year prior to students' departure include the provision of copious documentation, sometimes in the form of a special handbook, scheduled meetings between staff and students, and the highly desirable encounter between second-year and fourth-year students, where those with experience of the year abroad can pass on valuable information and hints. When abroad, students' welfare is suitably monitored, with some institutions able to provide monitoring visits by staff. After the students return, they complete questionnaires about their experiences; these contribute to a databank for the benefit of their successors. One institution communicates regularly by fax with its students on placement in Latin America. In contrast, some providers fail to give their students adequate preparation for their year abroad, and maintain little contact with them while they are away. Students are apprehensive initially but, in retrospect, almost all find the experience of the year abroad a most rewarding one, not least for the linguistic skill attained and the confidence it brings to their final year of study in the UK.

41. The efficient functioning of central services is a positive feature. Although the precise nature of the services varies between institutions, it is evident that welfare and counselling services (whether provided by the student body, the subject area or the institution), and careers guidance figure prominently and operate effectively. Remedial support is built into the provision of some institutions, and is less formalised in others; some, however, are slow in recognising the additional support needed by some mature students and those students with non-standard entry qualifications.

Learning Resources

42. Of the providers having single-subject visits, 38 per cent achieved grade 4, 57 per cent grade 3 and 5 per cent grade 2 for this aspect. The joint visits including Iberian languages and studies were graded 34 per cent at grade 4; 37 per cent at grade 3; 26 per cent at grade 2; and one visit at grade 1. There is a wide range of practice, corresponding to differing perceptions of the students' learning experience. For example, native speakers are deployed both traditionally as lectors and as full-time language teaching staff. Native speakers have a crucial role to play; in the past, they were employed almost exclusively to speak in their own language in small conversation groups of native English speakers. The assessors observed native speakers conducting beginners' classes in Spanish, but not always successfully, and in one instance incomprehensibly; they were seen more effectively explaining the finer points of essay writing to more advanced students in Spanish. In a climate where staff exchanges are becoming more frequent, identifying the role and competence of native speakers will become an even more critical resource issue.

43. A key resource for language learners is the language laboratory. Most institutions have at least one which is stocked with up-to-date equipment, but in the specialist areas some language laboratory facilities are under-utilised; some providers fail to identify a serviceable use for them in their own teaching and learning programmes. Opportunities for independent learning in language centres are being imaginatively exploited, despite the limitations of opening hours, with the provision, for example, of networked computers designed to cater for the needs of language learners. Use of CALL is deemed to be more central to effective language provision in some institutions than in others, but the ever-increasing demand to expand it has significant financial implications. In many cases, where CALL is established, independent learning proves more successful.

44. Throughout the sector, students have access to appropriate general IT facilities, with some computer centres providing a first-class service. In some institutions, word-processing of written assignments is obligatory; however, at peak times there may be difficulties in accessing IT equipment.

45. Classroom accommodation is adequate, and equipped with suitable teaching aids; group sizes match room sizes. Teaching facilities constitute a sensitive area for students, and institutions are addressing the problems of cramped conditions and overcrowding as resources permit. In some institutions, ingenious reallocation of limited space is a short-term expedient, masking the need for substantial longer-term planning. Satellite television is integrated into a number of teaching programmes and in one institution is linked to all staff rooms. Audiovisual and media-production facilities are a developing feature of both teaching and learning.

46. The library is no longer the key source of information for independent learning now that some of its functions have been superseded by technological developments, but is still a valued resource in Iberian languages and studies. Book and dictionary provision for language studies ranges from adequate to excellent, with holdings more than sufficient for postgraduate study. Opening hours are generous, and library staff are friendly and helpful; some tactfully exercise the dual function of assisting students and advising staff on the provision of students' needs, a case in point being foreign language periodicals, which are increasingly in demand given the nature of language teaching in some institutions.

Quality Assurance and Enhancement

47. There are reasonably robust quality assurance and monitoring systems, and there is evidence that many providers have reacted positively to points raised in HEQC audit reports. The assessors graded this aspect for single visits to providers as follows: 24 per cent at grade 4, 57 per cent at grade 3 and 19 per cent at grade 2. Joint visits were graded 29 per cent at grade 4, 58 per cent at grade 3 and 13 per cent at grade 2. Two institutions offering Iberian languages and studies had no formal quality assurance procedures at the time of the visit, and in some other cases, the systems were still at an early stage in their development and had yet to be proven.

48. Student opinion is effectively gathered and evaluated in a substantial majority of cases, and students' concerns are taken seriously and acted upon; however, ineffective or inconsistent arrangements for eliciting feedback from students are identified in a minority of institutions, where students are also inadequately informed of any action taken as a result of their input. A poor level of response to student questionnaires is identified in a significant number of institutions; however, the relatively small size of most Iberian languages and studies providers is seen as frequently enabling students to voice their concerns effectively but informally, bypassing the formal feedback procedures. Staff-student committees exist in almost all institutions, and work well, but in some cases there is a need for improved training for student representatives.

49. The majority of providers have appropriate and effective induction, mentoring and support arrangements for new full-time teaching staff. As far as part-time staff, language assistants, technical and support staff are concerned, however, the arrangements are less consistent; the assessors note that this is an issue which should be addressed by those institutions which have not integrated these categories of staff into their staff development systems. Most providers have well-established staff development policies, but the take-up rate varies considerably. A small minority of providers have no clear staff development policy, but a significant number encourage staff to avail themselves of the opportunities provided centrally by the institution. In some cases, the participation rate varies considerably, with more experienced and longer-established staff proving less likely to engage in staff development activities.

50. A system of peer review and observation has been established and is working well with many providers; in a significant number, however, the assessors recommend that such a system should be introduced or strengthened, to increase effectiveness. Staff appraisal procedures exist and are operating well and informing staff development in most institutions.

51. External examiners' comments and reports are taken very seriously, and matters raised are formally and rigorously addressed. Issues raised in external examiners' reports are considered as part of the institution's quality assurance procedures and appropriate responses are generated. In only a minority of cases were shortcomings identified in the arrangements for external examiners, or inadequacies and inconsistencies found in providers' responses to external examiners' reports. It is significant that such issues arose more frequently on joint language provision than on single-subject visits, leading the assessors to conclude that problems of communication between staff in different language sections could be a contributing factor.

52. Although some institutions' self-assessments are admirably accurate and self-critical, a considerable number have significant omissions, lack statistical evidence and examples, and are too descriptive and insufficiently evaluative. For example, some self-assessments make little reference to quality assurance or assessment, and the issues of widening access, equal opportunities and responsiveness to students' needs are infrequently mentioned. An awareness of the external world, including the world of work, is evident in many of the documents, and providers stress the importance of developing relevant critical, analytical and personal transferable skills, together with the ability to learn independently. Almost every provider stresses in its self-assessment the importance of the appreciation of Hispanic and/or Lusitanian cultures in the broadest sense.


53. Of the 21 single-subject visits, there were high grades awarded, with many institutions receiving grades 3 or 4. Exceptions were in Teaching, Learning and Assessment (where 10 per cent were grade 2) and Quality Assurance and Enhancement (where 19 per cent were grade 2). At one institution, all six aspects received a grade 4. No institution receiving a single-subject Iberian languages and studies visit received a grade 1 for any aspect. The aspect grades awarded on joint visits were slightly more spread and one grade 1 was awarded (Learning Resources). The overall picture is of a discipline which is attractive to students and is taught by enthusiastic and caring staff, committed to the enhancement of Iberian languages and studies.

54. The subject is offered widely throughout higher education, and is diverse in nature. Providers have adopted a range of strategies in arriving at the balance between breadth and depth, as well as providing other joint programmes. As a result, students have genuine choice when deciding upon a course in Iberian languages and studies. There is a noticeable trend of recruiting students with non-standard entry qualifications and mature entrants to these courses and there is also a commitment to developing general transferable skills in order to prepare students for the world of work. Overall, the aims set are met and at least a substantial contribution is made to the attainment of the objectives.

55. Other key features of the Iberian languages and studies provision include the following:

a. The curricula and syllabuses are consistent with the aims and objectives set and are up to date. The overall provision includes courses in Iberian languages and contextual studies covering the history, culture and social context. In many programmes, students are offered opportunities to specialise in the later years of their degree. Some providers, however, need to develop clearer linguistic objectives for students in their language courses.

b. Courses generally demonstrate appropriate academic progression between years, with year one providing a key core which is then subsequently developed with additional options. Most institutions ensure that Iberian languages and studies students spend a year abroad to develop first-hand knowledge of the country and improve their language skills. This period is highly regarded by students, but some providers need to improve its integration into the curriculum.

c. The students' experience of teaching, learning and assessment is generally a positive one; providers possess clear aims and objectives and are eager to develop appropriate strategies for their achievement. Of the teaching and learning sessions observed, 90 per cent were grade 3 or 4 on the single-subject visits and 87 per cent on the joint visits, indicating a high level of skill and interest by both staff and students. In a minority of sessions, the assessors found a lack of intellectual challenge. There is an appropriate balance between lectures, small- group work, and laboratory and tutorial work. However, some sessions still tend to be teacher dominated, with limited participation by students. The assessors encourage providers to raise their expectations of students even further and explore ways of disseminating the many examples of best practice observed.

d. Many institutions have developed appropriate strategies for developing transferable skills, although it is not clear that others fully understand how these are to be achieved. Students expressed a high level of satisfaction with the quality of their learning experience overall.

e. There is a variety of assessment methods which is wholly appropriate in most courses, and there is a good match between the teaching and learning objectives and the assessment approaches. Some providers, however, have not satisfactorily resolved how the year abroad should be assessed. The quality of written feedback provided to students on marked work is generally helpful, but in many cases there is a need to develop greater consistency in marking criteria. The marks awarded in some institutions tend to fall within a relatively narrow range.

f. Students' progress is monitored carefully by most providers and students satisfactorily complete their courses with good results. They graduate to a wide variety of jobs, although many return abroad before seeking employment in the UK. Ab initio students often achieve final awards that equal those of students who started with prior knowledge and experience, indicating significant added value.

g. Most institutions offer a sound framework of support and guidance for students, with staff catering responsibly and proficiently for their needs. In some instances, however, the support offered to students while abroad could be improved.

h. Learning resources are generally sound with new developments in the use of CALL, multi-media and satellite broadcasts. Most libraries are well stocked and offer a supportive and friendly service to students. The assessors observed that the optimum use of language laboratories was not always achieved; in such cases, these resources were not fully integrated into the curriculum and were under-utilised.

i. Iberian languages and studies lecturers are well qualified and many are experts in selected fields. They are enthusiastic and undertake a wide range of activities to keep up to date with their subject. The assessors saw many examples of scholarship and research interests of staff being fed into the curriculum, which was enriched and extended by this. Lecturers are also highly committed to providing good pastoral support, and staff-student relations are excellent. However, some providers need to involve teaching assistants and part-time staff much more in their activities and, in a few cases, improve the training they receive.

j. The providers are aware of the need for effective quality assurance systems, and the majority have such procedures in place or are developing them. Many Iberian languages and studies providers are in a transitional stage, learning to manage greater numbers of students and higher staff-student ratios than has traditionally been the case; they are reacting to this by instituting formal quality assurance systems where previously, small numbers of students had allowed a greater degree of informality. With some providers the informal systems still operate, but are being reinforced by rigorous, formal procedures.

The Graded Profile

The graded profile for an institution indicates the extent to which the student learning experience and achievement demonstrate that the aims and objectives set by the subject provider are being met. The tests and the criteria applied by the assessors are these:
Aspects of Provision
1. Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
2. Teaching, Learning and Assessment
3. Student Progression and Achievement
4. Student Support and Guidance
5. Learning Resources
6. Quality Assurance and Enhancement
Tests to be applied
To what extent do the student learning experience and student achievement, within this aspect of provision, contribute to meeting the objectives set by the subject provider?

Do the objectives set, and the level of attainment of those objectives, allow the aims set by the subject provider to be met?

Scale Points
  1. The aims and/or objectives set by the subject provider are not met; there are major shortcomings that must be rectified.
  2. This aspect makes an acceptable contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives, but significant improvement could be made.

    The aims set by the subject provider are broadly met.

  3. This aspect makes a substantial contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives; however, there is scope for improvement.

    The aims set by the subject provider are met.

  4. This aspect makes a full contribution to the attainment of the stated objectives.

    The aims set by the subject provider are met.

Annex A

Institutions Assessed in Iberian Languages and Studies

Institution Aspect of Provision Assessment Outcome Quality Assessment Report
1 2 3 4 5 6
Birkbeck College 3 3 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q72/96
King's College London (Portuguese) 3 4 4 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q89/96
King's College London (Spanish) 4 3 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q206/96
Lancaster University 3 3 4 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q59/96
The Queen's University of Belfast 3 3 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved not published
University College London 3 3 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q35/96
University of Birmingham 3 3 4 4 4 4 Quality Approved not published
University of Bristol 3 3 4 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q83/96
University of Durham 2 3 3 3 3 2 Quality Approved not published
University of Exeter 3 3 3 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q127/96
University of Hull 4 4 4 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q229/96
University of Leeds 3 4 4 4 3 4 Quality Approved Q62/96
University of Liverpool 3 4 4 3 4 3 Quality Approved Q46/96
University of Manchester 3 4 4 4 3 2 Quality Approved Q152/96
University of Nottingham 3 2 4 3 3 2 Quality Approved Q255/95
University of Portsmouth 3 3 4 3 2 3 Quality Approved Q225/96
University of Sheffield 4 3 4 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q153/96
University of Sunderland 3 3 3 3 3 3 Quality Approved Q204/96
University of Ulster 3 2 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q30/96
University of Westminster 4 3 3 3 3 2 Quality Approved Q198/96
University of Wolverhampton 4 3 4 3 3 3 Quality Approved Q108/96

Institutions Assessed in Modern Languages Including Iberian Languages and Studies

Institution Aspect of Provision Assessment Outcome Quality Assessment Report
1 2 3 4 5 6
Anglia Polytechnic University 4 3 4 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q230/96
Bolton Institute of Higher Education 3 3 4 3 3 3 Quality Approved Q201/96
Bournemouth University 2 2 3 4 1 2 Subject to reassessment within a year Q241/96
Chester College of Higher Education 3 3 3 4 4 2 Quality Approved Q107/96
Coventry University 3 3 3 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q199/96
Goldsmiths College 3 3 3 4 2 2 Quality Approved Q70/96
Kingston University 4 3 3 4 3 4 Quality Approved Q104/96
Leeds Metropolitan University 3 3 3 3 3 4 Quality Approved Q210/96
Liverpool Institute of Higher Education 3 3 3 4 2 4 Quality Approved Q68/96
Liverpool John Moores University 3 3 3 3 4 3 Quality Approved Q90/96
London Guildhall University 3 3 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved to be published
Manchester Metropolitan University 3 3 3 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q91/96
Middlesex University 3 3 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved to be published
The Nottingham Trent University 3 3 3 3 2 3 Quality Approved Q99/96
Oxford Brookes University 4 3 3 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q139/96
Queen Mary and Westfield College 4 4 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q105/96
Roehampton Institute 3 3 3 4 2 4 Quality Approved to be published
Sheffield Hallam University 3 4 3 3 3 3 Quality Approved Q180/96
South Bank University 4 3 3 4 4 4 Quality Approved Q49/96
Staffordshire University 4 3 4 4 2 4 Quality Approved Q84/96
Thames Valley University 2 3 3 3 4 3 Quality Approved Q55/96
Trinity and All Saints 2 3 3 4 2 3 Quality Approved Q10/96
University of Bradford 3 3 3 4 3 2 Quality Approved Q37/96
University of Brighton 3 3 4 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q41/96
University of Cambridge 3 4 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q171/96
University of Central Lancashire 3 3 4 4 3 4 Quality Approved Q222/96
University of Derby 3 3 3 3 3 3 Quality Approved Q168/96
University of East London 3 3 3 4 2 3 Quality Approved Q61/96
University of Hertfordshire 2 3 3 3 2 3 Quality Approved Q208/96
University of Huddersfield 2 3 2 3 2 3 Quality Approved Q4/96
University of Luton 3 3 3 4 3 4 Quality Approved to be published
University of Newcastle upon Tyne 3 4 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q146/96
University of North London 3 3 3 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q242/96
University of Northumbria at Newcastle 4 4 4 4 4 3 Quality Approved Q162/96
University of Oxford 3 4 4 4 4 2 Quality Approved Q240/96
University of Southampton 2 3 3 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q124/96
University of Surrey 3 3 3 4 2 3 Quality Approved Q45/96
University of the West of England, Bristol 4 3 4 4 3 3 Quality Approved Q184/96


Aspects of Provision are:
1. Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
2. Teaching, Learning and Assessment
3. Student Progression and Achievement
4. Student Support and Guidance
5. Learning Resources
6. Quality Assurance and Enhancement

Annex B

Subject Specialist Assessors in Iberian Languages and Studies

Mr Blair Allwood
Ms Veronica Bamber
Dr Paul R Bangs
Dr David R Brookshaw
Dr David R Corkill
Mr Jose L De Peon Davila
Mrs B Cecilia Garrido
Dr Jean E Gilkison
Professor Alfred A Heathcote
Professor Leo Hickey
Dr Richard Hitchcock
Mr John L Hollyman
Mr Peter James
Mr T Keith Jenkinson
Professor David Johnston
Professor Barry Jordan
Dr Antoni M Kapcia
Ms Teresa A Lawlor
Professor Ian R Macpherson
Dr Terry R A Mason
Dr Patricia McDermott
Dr Tony Morgan
Dr Patricia A Odber De Baubeta
Ms Barbara A Phillips
Professor Benny Pollack
Dr Susan A Price
Mrs Penelope E Robinson
Professor Eamonn J Rodgers
Mrs Hilary J S Rollin
Professor Dorothy S Severin
Mr John J Shaw
Mr Robert H Taylor
Professor D Gareth Thomas
Professor Irving A A Thompson
Mr Michael Truman
Miss Susan C Ward
Professor R Clive Willis

Reporting Assessors Participating in the Assessment of Iberian Languages and Studies

(Including those RAs participating in modern language visits that included the subject area)

Dr John Barkham
Professor Terence Baylis
Eur Ing Alan Chantler
Mr Peter Clarke
Professor Donald Conway
Eur Ing Roy Crowcroft
Professor Robert Davies
Dr Andrew H Dawson
Professor (Emeritus) Geoffrey Doherty
Ms Helen Galas
Mr Anthony Harding
Professor Dennis Hardy
Ms Gillian Hayes
Dr John Hurley
Ms Elisabeth Joyce
Mr David Kinnear
Mr Anthony Laird
Mr David Lewis
Mrs Christine Plumbridge
Professor William Plumbridge
Mr Michael Ryder
Dr Robert Schofield
Professor Gerald Vinten
Mr John Warren
Professor David Weitzman
Dr David Whan

Printed copies of this report are available priced £2.00 from:

Quality Assessment Division
Northavon House
Coldharbour Lane

Telephone 0117 931 7442
Facsimile 0117 931 7446

Full Subject Index