International Perspective

In comparison to many other jurisdictions Australia possess a developed and systematic approach to quality assurance. While TEQSA and the AQF are both relatively new, having a national qualifications framework and a quality agency that will undertake quality assessments represents steps towards the U.K. and European model, and away from the U.S. and New Zealand model of voluntary accreditation and self-assessment.

This section contains a summary of international quality assurance, including major international projects, and a brief summary of quality assurance systems across different jurisdictions. While certainly not exhaustive, this information provides a sense of how the trend for increased quality assurance processes has played out in other jurisdictions.

International Quality ProjectsInternational Quality Agencies

Internationalisation Quality Review Process – (OECD):
The IQRP is a process developed by the OECD to conduct cross-country analysis of higher education internationalisation with a focus on quality assessment and assurance. The review process has been piloted at universities across the world.

The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA)
The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) is conducts reviews of quality agencies, which is influenced by the Bologna Declaration of 1999, where European leaders committed to a European Higher Education area by 2010. The aim is a comparable criteria, methodology, and degrees (ENQA, 2010).

Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) – (OECD):
AHELO is a Feasibility study looking at the evaluation of generic skills and discipline specific skills; the aim is to see if it is practically and scientifically feasible to assess what students know and can do at graduation. The project tests students across countries to provide data on learning quality and relevance to the labour market. Part of the project is to identify universities that are able to affect improvement; e.g. A+ Universities attract A+ students, but what about B+ universities that produce A+ students. Part of the project is to discover the value added.

The study is still ongoing, Volume 1 of the Feasibility study report has been published, and the final report will be published around April 2013 by the OECD, followed by a symposium.

The Tuning Approach
The Tuning Approach is a process to foster the comparability of higher education programs across the European Union, while still protecting the diversity and independence of degree programs. Based on the Bologna progress, programs need to satisfy the following: relevance for society, lead to employment, prepare for citizenship, be recognised by academic and sufficiently transparent and comparable to facilitate mobility and recognition.

Judging quality draws on two terms: fitness for purpose and fitness of purpose. Fitness for purpose concerns if the process (curriculum & teaching) are suited to achieving the aims of a program. Fitness of purpose is if the aim of the program are suitable.

Tuning emphasises the importance of competencies. Learning outcomes are what students are expected to know, understand or be able to demonstrate. Competencies are a dynamic combination of knowledge, understanding, skills, and abilities.
Tuning compliant courses are output oriented and preferable modular.
The Tuning approach to programs:

  • The availability of resources to support the program
  • A demonstrated need for the program based on a broad consultation, which also determines the academic reference points for the program (Tuning questionnaires available for this)
  • A degree or qualifications profile that defines the aims and purposes of the program. Formulation of these into intended learning outcomes that are coherently linked to curriculum design and student assessment.
  • Consideration of academic content and the level of achievement, also the imperative to promote autonomous learning.
  • Evaluation through the systematic collection and analysis of indicators (e.g. examination success rates, progression of students to employment, student recruitment numbers, evaluation survey results, results of external benchmarking). Feedback and feed forward loops should be in operation, which include students, alumni, academic staff. The feedback is to correct deficiencies in delivery or design, the feed-forward is to identify expected developments.

An important issue in the European context is the need for comparability and transparency across countries. The comparability of programs is from the use for learning outcomes; competencies with a definition of level, and well-focused teaching, learning and assessment approach.

Relevance is determined by academic, professional and social development, intellectual endeavour, employment and citizenship in a European context. Demand for clarity about the needs of degree programs.

Need for transparency in outcomes, process, resources, and in the quality systems and data collection.

New Zealand New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit In New Zealand the NZUAAU is responsible for conducting external institutional audits, which have increasingly focused on graduate attributes, and assessment. Examining the internal processes in place is part of the institutional audits. However there is no real requirement to have anything in particular in place, just that there are processes in place. The graduate attributes are determined by the university internally, along with the relationship between the NZQF, with the processes for assuring them determined by the university. Because the auditing body for universities is separate to the body for private education providers the context it quite different. There is a lot of trust and a sense of collaboration in the auditing process, particularly as the auditors are all senior academics, the system is much more like peer review.
United Kingdom Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education The QAA undertakes reviews of higher education institutions against the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. Processes differ slightly between England and Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The review team makes judgements about how the institution performs in setting and maintaining threshold academic standards, managing student learning, and enhancing quality. Setting and maintaining threshold standards refer to the level of achievement required for an award, and are set out in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications. The team examine how institutions if programs are aligned to threshold standards and any relevant subject benchmark statements.
Europe European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education The ENQA is a membership organisation consisting of all the quality assurance agencies in the European Higher Education Area. The mission of the organisation is to work across their members to enhance European higher education and develop quality assurance across all Bologna signatories. Membership requires adherence to the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, which includes external assessment criteria and processes.
United States Council on Higher Education Accreditation The United States lacks a system of qualifications frameworks, meaning there are no agreed to standards and descriptors about what constitutes a bachelors/masters level program. The CHEA represents a large group of associated and accredited degree granting bodies who sign on to standards of academic quality and ongoing quality improvement. The standards emphasise: advancing academic quality, accountability, and self-scrutiny and improvement. While undertaking some reviews, it is a voluntary agency and emphasises self-study.
Asia There is no centralised body for quality assurance across Asia, but a number of research projects have begun to compare the functioning of different agencies across the region. Lenn (2004) and Hou (2012) identify quality assurance agencies in Provincial China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, and Cambodia. None of these countries have national qualifications frameworks setting out the competencies required for different levels of programs.
South America No centralised body across the region, but recognition of a diversity of models and approaches across countries. Lemaitre (2011) describes quality assurance models emphasising quality control, accountability, or improvement, and a mix of autonomous national agencies (Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay), government ministries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico), and university consortiums (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama).
Africa Quality assurance is still developing in africa, only 19 african states (out of 55) have a national quality assurance agency (Lenga, 2011, p. 30). A joint study Europe-Africa Quality Connect: Building Institutional Capacity through Partnership (QA Connect) was undertaken between 2010-2012 to test the suitability of the European University Association’s Institutional Evaluation Program in the African context. The piloted scheme was oriented towards external auditing and asessment, with some requirement for self-evaluation. There was a lot of variation in internal quality assurance processes; one institution that was ISO certified to one with no QA procedures. Other had features like student evaluation, curriculum committees, a QA central committee, and quality officers, but the approach to internal QA was not systematic and there was limited use of the evaluation results.