The QAA, HEFCE, Universities UK, GuildHE and others have been reviewing the Institutional Audit process and NUS and students’ unions have been actively engaged in the process of developing the new Institutional Review process in England and Northern Ireland over the last two years.
NUS has helped shape the new process in many ways and make it more responsive to the needs of students and pushed, and won, on several key areas.
There are several key features of new system:
New thematic element
In NUS’ written evidence to the HEFCE TQSE sub-committee on quality in January 2009 NUS called for: It would be useful if the new Quality Assurance Framework not only provides reassurance that the institutional quality procedures are in place but also that the QAA is able to undertake reviews into specific themes. This would ensure that students are able to be reassured that issues of concern are taken seriously.
The new Institutional Review process will have two components: a core section leading to judgments, and a thematic element which will not lead to a judgment. Each theme will span one year of review, and will form the basis of a report with sector-wide conclusions and recommendations on an issue of public interest.
The theme for the first year of Institutional review (2011-12) will be the 'First Year Student Experience'.
Issues to be considered might therefore include:
- Arrangements for induction and the first few weeks at the institution
- Information for first year students
- Academic advice and guidance
- Learning support and access to resources
- Assessment arrangements.
In NUS’ written evidence to the HEFCE TQSE sub-committee on quality in January 2009 NUS called for: Students need to know what information is available, where they can find it, and know that it is accurate and complete, emphasising that there should be information that was “up-to-date, consistent and reliable about the quality and standards of teaching and learning at different HEIs”.
The new Institutional Review process will have review reports that are useful to the wider public, including current and prospective students, not just to institutions. They have changed the way that we report review team judgments, emphasising clear and accessible reports for a wide audience. The public QAA documents highlight that “Choices about higher education should be informed by clear, accessible and accurate information. We have changed the way that review teams consider the information provided by institutions for public audiences.
- Institutional review will look specifically at the public information which institutions will be required to produce, including the information produced for applicants and students.
- From 2012-13, reports will include a formal judgment on the quality of public information.”
In the Quality in HE Group, the major sector quality committee, over several meetings NUS representatives pushed strongly for greater gradation in the Judgements to provide more information for students. In the new Institutional Review process there are both additional Judgements – on Public Information and Enhancement as well as Quality and Standards - and there will also be extra gradations, and clarity in the wording, about the Judgements: Quality and enhancement will be graded against four possible judgments (increasing from the current three), these will be:
- 'is commended'
- 'meets UK expectations'
- 'requires improvement to meet UK expectations'
- 'does not meet UK expectations'.
Student-centred quality assurance
The QAA has also emphasised the role of students in the process saying that “The best way to ensure that quality assurance really benefits students is to put them at the heart of the process. We have added new ways for students to take part in the assessment of their university or college, engaging students in more ways than ever before.
- Review teams will meet and gather information from more students and in more depth. A greater emphasis is placed on evidence from the institution's students.
- Institutions are expected to prepare and publish a post-review action plan that fully engages its students.
- Students will continue to be members of review teams. Each institution will also appoint a lead student representative to help coordinate review visits.”
- New thematic element
- Public Information
- Student-centered quality assurance