Cambridge biscuit factory?

News Reporter 15 January 2009

The University’s Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) has caused a stir after allowing further education courses in subjects such as Garden History and Community Leadership to be held in in its grounds.

ICE, based in Madingley Hall, is a constituent part of the University and has been offering courses for the best part of 100 years. Dr Peter Warner, Senior Tutor at Homerton College, told The Cambridge Student (TCS) he was pleased that the College was involved in hosting the Institute’s courses:

” is good for the University and good for the community. It’s also very good from the point of view of access. I think that what Madingley does is generally good. It brings in people from the local community, who might not otherwise be able to take part in this sort of study, and is very valuable.”

However, whilst Homerton has embraced the chance to play host to the ICE’s courses, others have been less willing to bring the ICE closer to the University.

Following a recommendation by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the ICE qualifications will now be awarded by the University, leading some academics and students to be concerned as to the courses’ academic rigour, and are also worried that students might try to pass the qualifications off as Cambridge degrees.

Speaking in The Telegraph, Professor Geth Evans, said the qualifications could become: “new animals, half Cambridge degree, half nothing of the sort”.

In the same article, it was revealed that some critics had referenced a remark by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Chancellor of the university, who once said: “I’m not the Chancellor of a biscuit factory, and I’ll stop if we move in that direction.”

Dr Peter Warner, however, told TCS he was “slightly baffled” by such criticisms:

“Obviously there have been some anxieties, but the university has been offering PGCEs for a long time, and no one ever claims that they are a degree.

“If someone did, I am sure they would be found out pretty quickly,” he added.

But despite these reassurances, others have criticised the University’s move to award these qualifications. Andrew Norman, a student at Pembroke, said that, whilst he felt that the ICE’s courses were important in relation to the University’s wider social responsibility, Cambridge should be more wary about awarding the qualifications under the University’s degree awarding powers:

“It is about academic rigour. ICE is a small part of the University’s business and really Cambridge is at the end of the day a University and not some kind of further education college or night school.

“University degrees are all to do with matriculation and becoming a member of the University (the M.A. degree confers membership of the Senate). The ICE courses aren’t, so it seems to make sense to keep them separate.”

Commenting on the awarding of ICE qualifications, a University spokesperson said:

“Educational provision for lifelong learning is an important contribution that the University can, and for some time has been making, to the community.

At the moment there are 12,000 adult learners on the books of the Institute of Continuing Education – many taking courses that qualify for credits under the national Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme, which can then be used to qualify for certificates and diplomas – specifically awarded by the Institute of Education.

“The Quality Assurance Agency has recommended that the Institute’s certificates and diplomas should simply in future be subject to accreditation by the University of Cambridge rather than by the less formal ‘local accreditation’ procedure presently used.”

Katie Spenceley

News Reporter