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ARB faces test case over validation

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The ARB is facing a legal test of its powers, after withdrawing prescription for De Montfort University against the advice of its own visiting board.

De Montfort is set to launch a legal challenge to the decision, which will remove prescription from the school's part I and part II courses. The ARB has also withdrawn unconditional validation from the Bartlett for its part II course, following a visit last week - a decision condemned by the school as an 'overreaction'.

The ARB released details of its decision on De Montfort last Thursday. It said 'examination standards. . . for these courses have not been acceptable' and 'for a number of years, advice on standards had not been acted upon'. Despite recent steps, it said, 'ARB could not be satisfied that students will attain competence' in the criteria it has set.

ARB said it had considered fully the effect the decision would have on students and staff, but concluded 'that the information before it was such to require the withdrawal of prescription'.

De Montfort, whose alumni includes Foster and Partners' Ken Shuttleworth, could not discuss the dispute, pending legal action. But in a statement a spokesperson said it was 'surprised and disappointed at the decision, which we intend challenging'.

However, ARB registrar Robin Vaughan dismissed claims that the ARB had overstepped its remit in going against the advice of a joint RIBA/ARB visiting board, which had recommended approval with further monitoring. And he defended the publication of the external examiners' reports as a move towards transparent decision-making. 'If a university wants to get prescription, it must be able to show its house is in order, 'Vaughan said.

The ARB may also have to defend itself against a challenge from the Bartlett, which is 'reviewing its options' after losing unconditional validation for its part II course. Director of the Bartlett school Professor Iain Borden said that although the ARB's visiting board had praised the high standards of teaching at the school, it had demanded additional bureaucratic procedures were put in place to prove standards were being met.

Borden said the new requirements would mean teachers spent less time with their students while tied up with bureaucracy. 'The validation process and the conditions that it seeks to impose threaten to interfere with the very education standards it purports to support, ' he said.

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