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The Future of Quality Assessment in Higher Education

Monday 29-06-2015 - 09:58

Today, the funding councils for England, Wales and Northern Ireland have published the second phase of their consultation about the future of quality assessment of higher education.

This proposes fundamental changes to the way in which the quality of students’ courses is assured nationally.

The key feature of the proposal is that the system of external higher education review, currently delivered by the Quality Assurance Agency, will be removed for institutions already in the publicly funded sector. Instead, institutions will be required to produce annual data returns to the funding councils on the quality of their provision and provide confirmation from their governing body that quality has been assured & enhanced in line with principles within the consultation document.

These principles are that any quality assessment system should:

  • Be based on the autonomy of higher education providers
  • Use peer review and appropriate external scrutiny
  • Expect students to be meaningfully integrated as partners in the design, monitoring and review of processes to improve the academic quality of their education
  • Provide accountability and value for money, as well as assurance to students, employers, government and the public
  • Be transparent and easily understood by students and other stakeholders
  • Work well for increasingly diverse and different missions
  • Not repeatedly retest an established provider against the baseline requirements
  • Adopt a risk and evidence-based approach to co-regulation
  • Ensure that the overall cost and burden of the quality assessment and wider assurance system is proportionate
  • Protect the reputation of the UK higher education system in a global context
  • Intervene early and rapidly, but proportionately, when things go wrong
  • Work towards creating a consistent approach to Quality Assessment for all providers of higher education

NUS has been working with the funding councils to ensure that students’ interests are protected and powerful in any future system.  We are pleased to see that our advocacy for a partnership approach between students, students’ unions and institutions has been adopted as a core principle of these proposals. However the proposals will need further scrutiny from NUS and students’ unions, as well as from our colleagues across the sector.

NUS prioritises a quality system with student involvement at every level, where institutions are constantly challenged to make education better. Students’ unions have continually been at the forefront of ensuring that we are a powerful voice in education.  NUS will not support any future system that does not seek to value and enhance this.

The impact of these changes will be felt for many years to come and the consultation process offers a critical opportunity for students’ unions to actively shape the future of quality assessment. NUS will be providing support and briefings to students’ unions to help them engage fully with the consultation, and will be running discussion events over the course of the summer.

We are keen to hear from students’ unions as much as possible – so please get in touch with Megan Dunn, NUS UK President, megan.dunn@nus.org.uk with any thoughts and ideas you have.  You can read the full report here.

The Scottish Funding Council decided not to participate in the consultation, and is conducting it’s own review. NUS Scotland is currently working with the Scottish sector and NUS UK to understand any consequences the HEFCE consultation and its proposals might have for higher education in Scotland. Please contact Rob Henthorn VP Education NUS Scotland if you would like to know more.

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