September 2008

  • Send
  • Subscribe


The European Quality Assurance Register: enhancing transparency and trust in quality assurance

Colin Tück - Project manager of EQAR

Since 8 August 2008 quality assurance agencies have been invited to apply1 for inclusion in the new European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR). EQAR has been established to further the development of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by increasing transparency of quality assurance. It will provide a list of credible, reliable and trustworthy quality assurance (QA) agencies operating in the EHEA.

Increasing transparency and trust

The register will allow students and employers to identify which higher education institutions and study programmes in Europe have been subject to external quality review by an independent QA agency. EQAR seeks to reduce the opportunity for so-called "degree mills", bogus institutions that often create false legitimacy with the help of dubious quality assurance agencies or "accreditation mills".

Mobility and recognition in the EHEA will be eased by enabling higher education institutions to verify which other institutions have undergone sound external review. Institutions can thus vest greater trust in other institutions in other countries. EQAR also seeks to increase trust among quality assurance agencies and between higher education systems in general, aiming at mutual acceptance of quality assurance decisions across borders.

EQAR has been established in the light of increasing cross-border activities in quality assurance: more and more higher education institutions opt for a review by a quality assurance agency from another country, not only thanks to the development of joint and double degrees, but also in order to receive valuable feedback and suggestions for improvement of their quality from an agency that aligns well with the institution's needs.

Such reviews might be supplementary or meant to fulfil legal requirements to undergo external quality assurance. Whether the latter is possible, naturally depends on national legislation. EQAR provides governments with a reliable tool that makes it easier to allow their higher education institutions to fulfil such requirements through a review by any agency listed on the register. In both cases, higher education institutions will benefit from EQAR in being able to acquire the information they need in order to choose between different agencies.

Cooperation of key stakeholders

EQAR was founded as a new independent association2 by the E4 Group – comprising the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), the European Students' Union (ESU), the European University Association (EUA) and the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) – in March 2008, under the mandate received from the 46 European ministers of higher education in May 2007.

The concept of EQAR, as it has been endorsed by the Bologna signatory countries, has emerged from a broad discussion amongst all countries and stakeholders involved in the Bologna Process. Several options were discussed3 and the concept of an easy-to-use register with only one category, managed by an independent legal entity involving the main stakeholders, eventually prevailed.

Thus EQAR represents a twofold development in the Bologna Process: firstly, it is the first new organisation directly emerging from the Process; secondly, the responsibility for its establishment and management falls mainly on stakeholders. European governments are encouraged to become members4 of EQAR and exercise an overall supervisory role, but as mentioned above the main responsibility for its management is borne by stakeholders.

Criteria for inclusion and decision making

The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area5, also know as the European Standards and Guidelines, ESG, serve as criteria for inclusion on EQAR. Quality assurance agencies have to evidence their substantial compliance with the ESG through an external review by independent experts.

The ESG were developed by ENQA in cooperation with the other E4 organisations and adopted by the Bologna ministers in 2005. They were designed as a set of common principles and reference points, rather than as prescriptive norms or a checklist. Evaluating the level of compliance with the ESG is therefore not always straightforward but might require a great deal of thought and consideration. This is reflected in the notion of “substantial compliance”: if a standard is not adhered to by the letter of the law, its substance might still be respected in another way.

The external review of a quality assurance agency is a crucial element. EQAR's decision to accept or reject an application for inclusion on the register is essentially based on the external review, which has to provide sufficient reliable evidence of the agency's compliance with the ESG. EQAR therefore attaches high importance to such reviews being carried out independently and professionally.

The decision making on applications for inclusion on the register is entrusted to a designated independent body of EQAR, the Register Committee. It comprises 11 members: each E4 organisation nominated two members; BUSINESSEUROPE and Education International nominated one member each; and the Chair has been nominated by the E4 organisations jointly. The committee's members contribute the specific perspective of their stakeholder group, but they act in their individual capacity rather than as representatives of their nominating organisation.


The first applications will be considered by the Register Committee in November 2008 (applications for the first round need to be made by 3 October 2008). The publication of the first list of agencies on the register will be a milestone in the Bologna Process and it can be expected that EQAR will strengthen the European dimension in quality assurance.
Increasing transparency and trust in quality assurance is not an end in itself − the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of higher education and to create greater confidence in European higher education, also outside the continent.

It will be crucial that EQAR becomes a useful tool for students, protecting them from poor quality education and allowing them to acquire information about the quality of institutions and programmes; higher education institutions, allowing them to identify quality assurance agencies that fit their needs and profile; and quality assurance agencies, enabling them to demonstrate their credibility at European level.


1 Detailed information on applications for inclusion, including the official procedures and a Guide for Applicants, is available from the EQAR website: http://www.eqar.eu/application.html
2 International non-profit association (nl. IVZW / fr. AISBL) under Belgian law.
3 For a detailed description see: "European Quality Assurance Register: enhancing trust through greater transparency", EUA Bologna Handbook, B 4.3-3, 2008
4 As of 12 August 2008, 23 governments have joined the EQAR association.
5 See: http://www.eqar.eu/application/requirements/european-standards-and-guidelines.html

Generalitat de Catalunya

Via Laietana, 28, 5a planta 08003 Barcelona. Spain. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

© 2008 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008