Study to evaluate the progress on quality assurance systems in the area of higher education in the Member states and on cooperation activities at European level

In line with the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006 on further European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education (2006/143/EC), the European Commission and the Member States support cooperation between higher education institutions, quality assurance and accreditation agencies, national authorities and other bodies in the field. The European Commission is required to regularly report on this process and to support its further development through insights and suggestions for further actions.

This study provides the analytical background for the European Commission’s next progress report on quality assurance in higher education. One of the key objectives of the study was to assess the extent to which the recommendations provided in the previous (2014) “Report on Progress in Quality Assurance in Higher Education” have been taken on board by the quality assurance community. The study has three main conceptual parts. The first part describes and analyses the recent trends and developments in quality assurance of higher education in the EU Member States and other countries of the European Higher Education Area. The second part focuses on the topics that are currently high on the agenda of the quality assurance community, such as broadening the scope of quality assurance to include newly emerging topics and building quality culture(s). The third part analyses the European cooperation on quality assurance, the impact of the European Approach for the Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes, the scope and quality of cooperation between quality assurance agencies and the impact of key EU-level stakeholders: the European University Association (EUA), the European Students’ Union (ESU), the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and The European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).

Study findings and recommendation are based on a thorough methodology, including:

  • A detailed analysis of the situation and the most recent developments in the national QA systems. The study team produced 28 detailed country-level fiches for each EU Member State and implemented synthetic analysis of the findings;
  • A large interview programme, including 94 interviews with EHEA national authorities, individual QA agencies, higher education institutions, the European Commission, EQAR, ENQA, EUA, EURASHE, ESU, ECA, Education International, Business Europe, ETUC, and other stakeholders;
  • A large-scale survey programme that consisted of 3 separate surveys targeting (1) higher education institutions, (2) quality assurance agencies, (3) national umbrella organisations of higher education institutions, students, employers and workers;
  • Social network analysis of the QA agencies’ survey data was performed to determine the inter-agency cooperation patterns between the European QA agencies, the key areas and purposes for which QA agencies cooperate and the intensity of these cooperation ties;
  • Analysis of 17 good practice cases in the field of QA;
  • Participation in four major stakeholder/ policy-making events that took place during the implementation of the study;
  • Delphi survey (on-line expert panel) to validate study conclusions and recommendations.

The results of the study will be used by the European Commission to write the next “Report on Progress in Quality Assurance in Higher Education”.

The study provided many conclusions and recommendations. Some of the main ones are described below.

The adoption of the new Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG 2015) was a major development that defined the period of 2014-2017. It sets clear and universal standards and inspires discussions and actions on issues like student-centred learning, teaching as the core mission of higher education, learning outcomes, and the use of quality assurance data.

In the survey of higher education institutions, developments in information and communication technologies were mentioned as the most important influencing factor on quality assurance in this period. This led to clear increase in the use of new and innovative learning modes, such as massive open online courses and blended learning. However, quality assurance agencies hardly assess the use of these new delivery modes.

The survey showed that in most countries, higher education institutions cannot be evaluated solely by foreign quality assurance agencies to fulfil their national external quality assurance requirements. Moreover, even in those cases when evaluation by a foreign agency does lead to a formal decision, its results usually must be approved by the national quality assurance agency and/ or the foreign quality assurance agency must follow the national regulations and standards of evaluation.

The study found that the institutional leadership and management of the university was the key driver of quality culture in higher education institutions. More than 65% of respondents from higher education institutions in Europe believed that leadership had a strong influence on the internal quality assurance of an institution. Strong leadership and effective management in higher education institutions contributed to improvements in quality assurance processes by mobilising human and financial resources, generating motivation and commitment among academic staff, as well as overcoming possible resistance to change and innovation.

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