January 2010

  • Send
  • Subscribe


A Pilot Experience in the External Assessment of International Relations in Higher Education

Carme Edo Ros - Project manager of AQU Catalunya

With higher education undergoing a process of adaptation to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the internationalization of activities in European universities is gaining importance. The last communiqué from the conference of European Ministers Responsible for Higher Education in Lovaina, that took place on 28 and 29 April 2009, prioritises, amongst others factors, the increase of internationalization of higher education institutions in general and the mobility of students, researchers and support personnel. In fact, this communiqué states that by 2020 at least 20% of graduates in the EHEA will spend a study period abroad.

Relacions internacionals

Accordingly, the ENQA establishes as a priority for the immediate future the provision of support to fulfil internationalization and mobility objectives of the EHEA, as well as ways of considering these objectives in the processes of external quality assurance of member agencies.

The assessment of international relations in the UAB
In 2007 the Autonomous University of Barcelona participated in a project proposed by ANECA that aimed to support the assessment of international relations in Spanish universities. ANECA's plan, with an interesting repertoire of good practices, was based on EFQM's quality assurance model, but it was centred exclusively on self-assessment, which is probably why few universities organised an external assessment of their international relations. Nonetheless, some universities nominated an assessment committee or an EFQM representative to carry out an external assessment.

After preparing ANECA's assessment questionnaire, the UAB considered it necessary to continue the project with an external assessment, in this case coordinated by a quality agency. To carry out this task, the UAB selected AQU Catalunya and the two institutions agreed to generate a pilot experience and work together on the design and the unfolding of an external assessment process of its international relations. This initial experience may, in the future, facilitate a transverse process of assessment of this dimension of the Catalan university network. Hence, it is felt that this occasion may serve to internationalise the assessment process in itself in terms of the methodology applied and the external assessment committee.

The methodological focus of AQU Catalunya
Taking into consideration the European frame of reference, AQU Catalunya outlines the following points for this project:

  • To facilitate the international benchmark and promote the comparability of international relations of the UAB with other European universities.
  • To nominate an international assessment committee that includes both an academic and student perspective.
  • To apply an international assessment methodology to test its performance in a Catalan university.
  • To produce conclusions and methodological elements for future implementations in other Catalan universities.

Subsequent to an analysis of the different European experiences on the assessment of international relations in higher education, the method of the Swedish agency Högskoleverket (HSV) was selected. This method, applied to all Swedish universities on two occasions (2004 and 2008), was considered the principal reference of the project for the following reasons:

  • The fact that the method was applied to all Swedish universities provides multiple opportunities for comparative assessment.
  • The method resolves the strategic factors in terms of international relations in higher education, in particular the role of international relations as regards the objectives of the Bologna process.
  • HSV published a report on the entire Swedish system assessed, the conclusions of which proved interesting.
  • The method is considered appropriate for the UAB and compatible with its previous endeavour with ANECA. Similarly, it is applicable to new contextual problems and transferable to other Catalan universities.
  • The method permits the production of synthetic reports, easily usable in external assessments and in the design of new policies.

The methodology of the Swedish agency is based on a questionnaire that includes six main sections in the sphere of international relations:

  • Grounds on which the internationalization activities of the university are based.
  • Organization of the international activity and resources assigned to this activity.
  • Areas of the university in which internationalization processes are considered.
  • Results achieved via the internationalization processes.
  • Manner in which the university assesses problems and opportunities tied to internationalization.
  • List of best practices tied to the internationalization processes.

The Swedish agency authorised the use of its methodology and the UAB applied it to draft a report on the process of external review. This report was discussed with AQU Catalunya before being sent to the review committee.

For this assessment, AQU Catalunya suggested an international committee formed by Ms Isabel Martins, vice-chancellor of the University of Aveiro; Mr Gunnar Enquist, project manager at the Swedish National Agency of Higher Education; Ms Magda Staniewicz, graduate in Political Sciences at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Poland), and Ms Carme Edo, quality expert at AQU Catalunya.

The Agency collaborated with the review committee in the preparation and methodological development of the external assessment and will publish a report on the lessons learnt in this process.

The external assessment of international relations in the UAB
The external assessment took place on 9 and 10 December 2009 in the Rectorat building of the UAB and following an programme of previously established visits. During the visit, the external assessment committee met with different groups from the university community and had the opportunity to visit the facilities of the services related to international relations. The assessment committee emphasised the revision of, amongst others, the following aspects:

  • International relations policy and strategy and the diffusion of the same throughout the entire university.
  • The objectives defined and their monitoring using indicators.
  • The human and material resources assigned to the activities related to internationalization.
  • The activities addressed to the promotion of internationalization and in particular the following:
  1. Internationalization at Home, a programme involving activities addressed to members of the university community who do not participate directly in mobility programmes.
  2. The promotion of international cooperation programmes.
  3. Mobility programmes of the university community.
  4. Training in internationalization.
  5. The promotion of foreign language learning.
  6. The integration of international students.
  7. At the end of the visit, the assessment committee presented the management team with an oral summary of initial conclusions. The external assessment process will conclude with an external assessment report that will be presented to the university and that is currently being drawn up by the external assessment team.

AQU Catalunya and the assessment of international relations
Given the relevance of internationalization in the current framework, and following the directives set by both the Conference of European Ministers Responsible for Higher Education that took place in Lovaina and by the ENQA, AQU Catalunya seeks to develop methodological elements to assess international relations that are potentially applicable and make them available to the entire Catalan university system. It is sought to use the information gained in this pilot experience with the UAB to kick-start the process.


Generalitat de Catalunya

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

© 2010 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008