Quality Assurance in Higher Education!

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Offline Kamanashis Kundu

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Quality Assurance in Higher Education!
« on: April 23, 2018, 03:24:51 PM »
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are autonomous, self-governing institutions. Each is responsible for the quality of its own programmes and for those institutions with degree awarding powers, for the academic standards of the awards it offers.

HEIs operate within a regulatory system that covers the grant of powers to award degrees, the right to use university or university college title and the receipt of public funding via the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). This system is described in the subsection below on ‘Responsible Bodies’.

Beyond this regulatory role, the system incorporates a number of elements that aim to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to inform and encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education. These elements incorporate internal and external scrutiny and a shared set of reference points. They are described in the subsection below on ‘Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance’.

Responsible Bodies:
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) is a Welsh Government Sponsored Body (i.e. a non-departmental public body directly funded by the Welsh Government). HEFCW regulates fee levels at universities, ensures a framework is in place for assessing the quality of higher education and scrutinizes the financial, governance and risk performance of universities. Conditions of the grant from HEFCW are laid out in the Financial Memorandum made between HEFCW and each higher education provider.

The Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015, which became law in March 2015, replaced the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 as the statutory underpinning for HEFCW’s quality assessment responsibilities from 1 September 2015. The Act gave HEFCW new powers of regulation, including the power to intervene where an institution has charged course fees in excess of those set out in its Fee and Access Plan or where the quality of an institution’s education provision is assessed as being or likely to become inadequate. Moreover, from August 2017, HEFCW has also had the power to intervene where an institution has failed to, or is likely to fail to, deliver its measures relating to the promotion of equality of opportunity in its Fee and Access Plan, or where it has failed to comply or is likely to fail to comply, with the Financial Management Code.

HEFCW also currently has a contract with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to conduct reviews of quality and standards in the HEIs that it funds. The method used in Higher Education Review: Wales, described in the section below on ‘External Review of Higher Education Institutions’. If a HEFCW-funded institution receives a ‘does not meet’ judgment in a Higher Education Review: Wales have undertaken by QAA and fails to improve through the QAA follow-up process, this will trigger HEFCW’s policy for addressing unsatisfactory quality in institutions. The circular Unsatisfactory Quality Procedures (revised 2012) indicates HEFCW’s approach to dealing with institutions that demonstrate unsatisfactory quality of management of the academic standards of awards and/or quality of the learning opportunities available to students, or where an institution is considered to be at higher risk in terms of the quality of its provision. However, the process for conducting external reviews of higher education institutions is currently changing; see the paragraph outlining the QAA’s responsibilities below for further information.

HEFCW, together with the other three UK higher education funding bodies (the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Funding Council), is responsible for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This framework assesses the quality of research undertaken in HEIs periodically on a UK-wide basis, to inform the selective allocation of research funding to them, as well as to provide accountability for public investment. See the subheading ‘External Assessment of Quality of Research’ in the article ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’ in the England country description for further information.

Note: In June 2017, the Welsh Government launched a consultation on proposals to create a new Tertiary Education and Research Commission for Wales, which would take responsibility for planning; contracting; funding; ensuring quality; audit; financial monitoring; performance; risk; and leading on research funding. The current responsibilities and functions of the HEFCW would transfer to the new authority. The consultation closed on 23 October 2017.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is currently responsible for the external evaluation of HEIs in Wales. QAA was set up in 1997 as an independent body funded by subscriptions from universities and colleges of higher education throughout the UK, as well as through contracts with the funding bodies. The QAA is not a regulator. It has no powers over HEIs and no statutory authority. The QAA advises the Privy Council (see below) on applications for the granting of degree awarding powers, university title, or designation as a higher education institution. See the subheading ‘Degree Awarding Powers’ in the article on ‘Types of Higher Education Institutions’ and QAA’s guidance on The Right to Award UK Degrees (2014). QAA acts on behalf of the UK higher education funding bodies in respect of the assessment of the quality of education. It aims to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education. It does this in two ways: by providing reference points that help to define clear and explicit standards and by reviewing standards and quality using peer review processes where teams of academics conduct audits and reviews. Reviews are carried out using a variety of methods depending on the country (Wales, England, Northern Ireland or Scotland) and the type of higher education provision.

Note: HEFCW is currently finalizing a new quality assessment framework for Wales, as outlined in the subheading on ‘External Review of Higher Education Institutions’ below. The body responsible for the external quality assurance review, which forms a core part of the new framework, has yet to be decided.

The Privy Council is a senior UK government committee which decides on HE providers’ applications for degree awarding powers and for the right to use the titles ‘university’ and ‘university college’.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) is a charitable company funded by subscriptions from providers of higher education. HESA collects a range of data every year UK-wide from universities, higher education colleges and other differently funded providers of higher education. These data are provided to UK governments and higher education funding bodies to support their work in regulating and funding higher education providers. Higher education providers are also required to publish a range of information about teaching quality and standards. Some of this information is available on institutions’ websites, and some are available on the Unistats website.

Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) regulate professional and occupational standards and issue their own licenses for professional practice. There are accreditation arrangements through which the syllabus for certain programmes in subjects such as architecture, engineering, medicine, and law is reviewed and approved for recognition by the relevant body as an initial phase of professional training or for exemption from a professional examination.

Estyn, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, is responsible for carrying out inspections of initial teacher training. Estyn is independent of, but funded by, the National Assembly for Wales. Note that in July 2017, an independent review of Estyn was announced. The review, which is due to report in early 2018, will look at Estyn’s role in supporting education reform.

Note: In January 2017, Universities UK, a body composed of the executive heads of HEIs, published Report of the Review Group on UK Higher Education Sector Agencies, relating to ten agencies operating in the HEI landscape, including the QAA and HESA. Although the agencies covered by the report are very diverse, they all support higher education institutions to work more effectively.

The report identified a number of issues with the HEI agency landscape, including the rising cost of agencies to HEIs; a lack of clarity over agency roles; duplication of services; and a lack of effective coordination. The study recommended the following:

a merger between the Equality Challenge Unit, which supports equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education institutions; the Higher Education Academy, which champions teaching excellence across the globe; and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, which develops the skills of future leaders of higher education

a partnership between the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, which is an independent charity specialising in higher education and graduate employment; the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA; see above); Jisc, which provides digital services for UK education and research; and UCAS, which is an independent charity providing information, advice and higher education admissions services

that all agencies should consult and engage their members more effectively, demonstrate value for money and deliver better inter-agency working.

In September 2017, it was announced that a new agency formed of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education is to be established in 2018.

Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance
Higher education institutions are autonomous, self-governing institutions. Each is responsible for the quality of its own programmes and, for those institutions with degree awarding powers, for the academic standards of the awards it offers. The approaches used incorporate internal and external scrutiny and a shared set of reference points.

Higher Education Review: Wales is the current external process examining how effectively each higher education provider operates its internal quality assurance system. It is described below under the subheading ‘External Review of Higher Education Institutions’.

Evaluation of research in higher education institutions is carried out every few years on a UK-wide basis on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies. See the subheading ‘External Assessment of Quality of Research’ in the article ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’ in the England country description for further information.

The Quality Code (reference points for internal and external review)
The Quality Code for Higher Education is the definitive reference point for all UK higher education providers, though use of the Quality Code documentation itself is voluntary. It makes clear what higher education providers are required to do, what they can expect of each other, and what students and the general public can expect of them. The Quality Code covers all four countries of the UK (Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland) and all providers of UK higher education operating internationally. It protects the interests of all students, regardless of where they are studying or whether they are full-time, part-time, undergraduate or postgraduate students.

There is no national accreditation of programmes (other than the accreditation by professional, statutory and regulatory bodies, or PSRBs, to provide assurance that a programme meets the standards required by a particular profession), but higher education providers must have quality assurance procedures for their programmes, which should be informed by the Quality Code. Typically, this is an internal process which encompasses two separate but complementary measures: programme monitoring and programme review. As described in Chapter B8 of the Code, programme monitoring refers to a regular, systematic process. It may take place annually or at shorter or longer intervals and provides a check on ongoing learning and teaching provision at an operational level. Programme review occurs less frequently, but periodically and to an agreed cycle. It has a broader remit and is informed by a view of trends over time. The review of a programme may be related to its re-approval if the original approval was time limited. In both cases, the unit of learning under consideration may be a module or group of modules or a programme or group of programmes. Monitoring and review may also take place at the departmental, subject or organizational level.

Higher education providers may use different terminology from that adopted in Chapter B8 or use the same terminology in different ways in relation to monitoring and review, reflecting their individual history and approach. For example, the monitoring which takes place at the end of each academic cycle may be described as annual monitoring or annual review, and the less frequent review process is often described as a periodic review.

QAA’s Quality Code for Higher Education takes account of the guidance in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). Therefore, although the ESG is not a separate reference point, if an institution is engaging with the Quality Code it follows that it will also be taking account of ESG. More information is available from the QAA website.

Note: in October 2017, QAA announced a consultation, undertaken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, on the redevelopment of the Quality Code. The consultation proposes a new approach which will allow the code to be agile and responsive; will respond to regulatory change and the diversifying UK higher education landscape; and will place students at its heart. The consultation is due to run until December 2017. Further details can be found on the consultation web page.

External examining
External examining is an integral and long-standing part of the system for higher education in the United Kingdom. Each institution with degree awarding powers is responsible for the academic standards of the awards it offers. External examining plays an important and essential role in every degree awarding institution’s arrangements for assuring its academic standards.

External examiners are experienced higher education teachers who offer an independent assessment of academic standards and the quality of assessment to the appointing institution. Acting as an external examiner generally involves the review of a selection of exam scripts, assignments, and dissertations followed by informal engagement with staff to discuss the assessed work and the formal meeting of the examination board.

The Quality Code for Higher Education includes the following expectation about external examining, which higher education providers are required to meet:

Higher education providers make scrupulous use of external examiners.

External examining

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has collected reference sources and resources for external examiners here. These include A Handbook for External Examining, published in 2012, which also contains a brief history of external examining in the UK.

External Review of Higher Education Institutions
In March 2016, the Department for the Economy (DfE, part of the Northern Ireland Executive) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published a Revised Operating Model for Quality Assessment in Higher Education, which has been in operation from the start of the 2017/18 academic year. The revised approach, which assesses the quality of education in the higher education institutions that the HEFCE and the DfE are considering funding or are already funding, is designed to be proportionate and risk-based, targeting regulatory activity on those institutions that represent greater risk to the student interest or to the reputation of the sector. For further information about the revised operating model, please see the equivalent article for England.

Following a period of consultation in 2016, the HEFCW established a set of baseline regulatory requirements which act as external reference points for higher education institutions. These baseline requirements align with those currently in use in England and Northern Ireland and are due to come into effect in Wales in 2018/19. HEFCW is currently finalising a quality assessment framework for Wales, as outlined on its website.

The shared baseline regulatory requirements are as follows:

the frameworks for higher education institutions, as set out in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (see subheading ‘The Quality Code’ above)

the expectations of the Quality Code

the relevant higher education code of governance

providers’ relevant obligations under consumer law

the relevant good practice framework for handling complaints and academic appeals

the financial sustainability, management and governance requirements of the relevant funding body.

Additionally, in Wales, two further baseline regulatory requirements exist:

Welsh language requirements: higher education providers must take account of the Welsh Language Act 1993 and emerging Welsh language standards

alignment with the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW), the national qualifications framework in Wales.

The new quality assessment framework is being finalised, but includes the following:

providers funded by the HEFCW providing annual assurance to the HEFCW in relation to quality

external assurance for institutions on the quality of provision against the baseline requirements, known as the ‘external quality assurance review’; the QAA has been asked to review overseas provision

annual review of data, known as ‘institutional risk reviews’

triennial assurance visits by HEFCW to higher education institutions, focusing on quality.

Until the baseline regulatory requirements are used from 2018/19 and the quality assessment framework for Wales has been established, the method for carrying out external reviews of higher education institutions in Wales is Higher Education Review: Wales.

The overall aim of Higher Education Review: Wales is to inform students and other members of the public whether a provider meets the expectations of the higher education sector for:

the setting and/or maintenance of academic standards

the provision of learning opportunities

the provision of information

enhancement of the quality of students’ learning opportunities.

It serves the twin purposes of providing accountability to students and others with an interest in higher education, and encouraging improvement.

Reviews take place every six years with a mid-process review in the form of a student-focused engagement three years after each review. They are carried out by peer reviewers. At least one reviewer will be, or will previously have been, a member of academic staff at another provider in the UK, one will have knowledge and experience of the Welsh higher education sector and at least one will be a current or recent student. Where providers request it, at least one reviewer will be able to conduct business with them through the medium of Welsh.

QAA sets up the review and appoints the review team. Withi,n the provider under review there is a facilitator who, alongside a student representative, acts as a point of liaison between the review team and the institution. QAA appoints an officer who is responsible for managing the review, collating the findings and writing a report which is published on the QAA website.

An advance briefing is held by QAA for the facilitators and lead student representatives from all HEIs whose reviews are due to happen at about the same time, following which there is a visit to the HEI by the QAA coordinating officer to confirm the structure and arrangements of the review.

Prior, to the review the HEI submits evidence electronically to QAA. This includes a self-evaluation document and a statement from the students known as the ‘student submission’. The review tethe am undertakes preliminary desk-based analysis of this evidence before making the review visit itself, which lasts up to a week.

Judgements about the HEI are made in the following areas and graded accordingly:

Threshold academic standards – three possible grades: ‘meets UK expectations’, ‘requires improvement to meet UK expectations’ and ‘does not meet UK expectations’.   

Learning opportunities, information and enhancement – four possible grades: ‘is commended’, ‘meets UK expectations’, ‘requires improvement to meet UK expectations’ and ‘does not meet UK expectations’.   

Review judgements may be differentiated so that different judgements may apply, for example, to undergraduate and postgraduate levels, or to the provision associated with different degree awarding bodies or other awarding organisations.

Following the review, all HEIs are expected to produce an action plan responding to the report’s recommendations and affirmations. When an institution receives a judgement of ‘commended’ or ‘meets UK expectations’ in all four areas, the report is formally signed off on publication of the action plan. HEIs achieving these successful outcomes are entitled to use the QAA Quality Mark. If an institution receives a judgement of ‘requires improvement to meet’ or ‘does not meet’ in any area, a formal programme of follow-up activity will follow after the report is published. QAA publishes all final reports of reviews and expects providers to publish their institutional action plans.

In cases of a ‘requires improvement to meet’ judgement, institutions are expected to address the weaknesses identified within a year of the report’s publication. If sufficient progress is not made after this time, the next level of follow-up activity will begin: that for a ‘does not meet’ judgement. In such cases, institutions are required to submit a series of progress reports over a year and will then undergo a second institutional review. Providing satisfactory progress has been made, the review will be signed off. If satisfactory progress has not been made, HEFCW’s Unsatisfactory Quality Procedure (UQP) will be invoked. As an ultimate sanction, HEFCW may withhold funding from institutions which still fail to meet the minimum standard.

The process is elaborated in detail in Higher Education Review: Wales - a Handbook for Providers (QAA, 2014).

Higher Education Review: Wales first operated during 2014/15 as the successor to the previous review method, Institutional Review (Wales).

Note: In June 2017, the Welsh Government launched a consultation on proposals to create a new Tertiary Education and Research Commission for Wales, which would take responsibility for planning; contracting; funding; ensuring quality; audit; financial monitoring; performance; risk; and leading on research funding. The current responsibilities and functions of the HEFCW would transfer to the new authority. The consultation closed on 23 October 2017.

External Review of Other Education Institutions
As well as conducting Higher Education Reviews, QAA uses a range of review methods for different types of higher education provision, including for reviews of initial teacher training provision. More information on these review methods is available from the QAA website.

Publication of Information
As indicated above, the reports resulting from Higher Education Review: Wales are published by QAA.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) publishes performance indicators on aspects of institutional performance. They are intended to offer an objective measure of how a higher education institution is performing, to contribute to greater public accountability and ensure that policy decisions can be made based on consistent and reliable information. Performance indicators provide comparative data on the performance of institutions in widening participation, student retention, learning and teaching outcomes, research output and employment of graduates. They cover publicly funded higher education institutions over the whole of the UK.

Key Information Sets (KIS) are comparable sets of information about full- or part-time undergraduate (first cycle) courses and are designed to meet the information needs of prospective students. They cover publicly funded higher education institutions over the whole of the UK. KIS data is published on the Unistats website and includes:

student satisfaction, from the National Student Survey   

student destinations on finishing their course, from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey

how the course is taught and study patterns   

how the course is assessed   

course accreditation   

course costs (such as tuition fees and accommodation).

External Assessment of Quality of Research
See the corresponding section for England for details of the operation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

External Assessment of Quality of Teaching
In 2015, the establishment of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF; now known as the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework) was announced in the (then) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ higher education green paper entitled Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. The TEF was established with the aim of making teaching and research in higher education institutions (HEIs) of equal status and of ensuring that all students receive an excellent teaching experience. The TEF encourages high quality teaching by financially rewarding HEIs in England which have been identified as delivering excellent quality teaching: HEIs which are deemed to be providing such teaching are allowed to increase their fees in line with inflation. Note that providers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are able to take part in the TEF, but this has no direct impact on their tuition fees.

See the equivalent article for England for further information.

Note: From April 2018, a new body established under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, entitled the Office for Students (OfS), will replace the Office for Fair Access (OFFA, the independent regulator of fair access to higher education in England) and assume responsibility for some of the functions of the HEFCE in England. The OfS will be the regulator for the higher education sector in England, with explicit duties focused on choice, value for money and quality. The OfS will have a duty to focus on equality of opportunity regarding access to and participation in higher education and will oversee the Revised Operating Model for Quality Assessment in Higher Education (see ‘External Review of Higher Education Institutions’ above) and operate the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Also under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, a new body entitled United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) was created. The UKRI is a single research and innovation funding body which brings together the seven existing Research Councils and operates across the whole of the UK. Please see the equivalent England article for further information.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2018, 03:43:36 PM by Kamanashis Kundu »
Kamanashis Kundu (ABir)
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E-mail: kundu@daffodilvarsity.edu.bd
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Offline Monir Hossan

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Re: Quality Assurance in Higher Education!
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2018, 05:18:54 PM »
In my recent article, published in the editorial of the Daily Independent, I tried to highlight the importance of quality assurance in Higher education of Bangladesh. You may like to read in the following link:

http://www.theindependentbd.com/arcprint/details/128974/2017-12-21
Mohammad Monir Hossan
Senior Assistant Director (Division of Research)
E-mail: monirhossain@daffodilvarsity.edu.bd