September 2010

  • Send
  • Subscribe


The Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees in Catalonia

Editorial Board - AQU Catalunya

Context: the Bologna plan

In 1999, the European Ministers responsible for higher education in Europe signed the Bologna Declaration, which laid the foundations for the setting up of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in 2010. The signatory countries agreed to:

  • The adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees.
  • The adoption of a system based on three cycles: bachelor, master and doctorate (the latter two sometimes grouped under postgraduate programmes).
  • The establishment of a comparable credit system (ECTS) to promote widespread mobility.
  • Promote the mobility of students, teachers and administrative staff.
  • Promote European cooperation in quality assurance and develop comparable review criteria and methods.

The enforcement of the Bologna Plan in Spain came into force In 2007 with the passing of Royal Decree 1393/2007 of 29 October, concerning the regulation of recognised university degree courses, which was amended by Royal Decree 861/2010, of 2 July. This recent amendment deals with a new structure governing recognised university degrees and awards, the purpose of which is convergence with the principles of the EHEA. The main new aspects are as follows:

  • A new way in which degrees are formulated. It is the universities themselves, in accordance with the prevailing regulations, that create and propose the degrees and awards that they teach and give, without the need to comply with a preestablished catalogue set by the authorities, as was the case previously. This involves several different stages in which a degree is subject to ex-ante assessment, authorisation (by the Autonomous regional government), monitoring, modification and accreditation.
  • A new degree structure: bachelor, master and doctorate. The structure for recognised degree courses consists of three cycles, bachelor, master and doctorate:

Bachelor: the purpose of which is to obtain a general education in preparation to carry out professional activities (240 credits).

Master: the purpose of which is to acquire an advanced education that is specialised and/or multidisciplinary, aimed at either an academic or professional specialisation, or promoting the start of research work (60-120 credits).

Doctorate: the purpose being an advanced training in research techniques, which will include the writing and presentation of the corresponding doctoral thesis, consisting of an original piece of research work (3 to 4 years).

*European Credit Transfer System (ECTS): assesses the time spent by the student to acquire the competences from a given degree programme. Each credit represents between 25 and 30 hours of study and includes not only class attendance, but also dedication to study, seminars taken, solving exercises, etc. A course with 60 ECTS credits involves a total of between 1,500 and 1,800 hours of work a year, i.e. between 37.5 and 45 hours a week over 40 weeks.

  • A new measurement instrument: ECTS* credits. ECTS credits provide a common measure of student workload linked to learning outcomes in the achievement of objectives established in the curriculum.
  • Degree quality. In the formulation of any new degree, the academic coordinators and managers in the university must specify what kind of internal quality assurance system they will implement for the purposes of quality assurance. This system is combined with a system for the periodic external review of quality (carried out by the quality assurance agencies), which enables the running of degree courses to be supervised and information on their quality provided to society.

The background to the framework

All methodologies for review processes formulated by AQU Catalunya take as reference the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) produced by ENQA and adopted by the European Ministers of Education in Bergen (2005). The standards state, amongst other things, that institutions should have a policy and associated procedures for the assurance of the quality and standards of their programmes and awards. It also says that higher education institutions should have formal mechanisms for the approval, periodic review and monitoring of their programmes and awards.

The main precursors that the Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees has been based on are, in chronological order, the pilot Plan for the adaptation of programmes and awards according to EHEA guidelines (2004-2009), the Evaluation Programme of Proposals for Recognised Postgraduate Programmes (2005-2008), the AUDIT programme (2007 to the present day) and the Experimental Monitoring Programme for recognised Bachelor and Master's degrees (2009-2010), all of which were pioneered by AQU Catalunya.

Through these programmes the Agency has consolidated its experience in the ex-ante assessment of programmes and the review of internal quality assurance systems used by higher education institutions. The Experimental Monitoring Programme enabled an approach to be designed by consensus between the Catalan universities and the Agency. One of the results of this programme was the document entitled Guidelines and recommendations for programme progress reports, which was presented and discussed with the heads (vice-rectors) in charge of degree quality and the QA technical units from the universities in Catalonia.

In addition to these experiences, account was taken in the drawing up of the Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees of the protocol for the monitoring and renewal of accreditation of recognised university degrees, approved by the General Conference on University Policy and the Universities Council. Care was also taken to ensure that the Framework is compatible with the prevailing Spanish legislation (Royal Decree 1393/2007, amended), the agreements adopted in Catalonia by the Inter-university Council of Catalonia and the prevailing Catalan legislation.

The Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees, which has been endorsed by the AQU Catalunya Board,1 is much broader than any of the aforementioned legal definitions as such, and these are implemented in such a way as to avoid any contradiction resulting from a literal and/or non-contextualised interpretation of the prevailing regulations.

The framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees (VSMA2)

The VSMA Framework links together the processes involving the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of the quality of recognised qualifications in Catalonia.

The VSMA Framework:

- Ensures the continuous review of the running of degree courses.
- Promotes the culture of quality and accountability.
- Gives support to those in charge in the university of building a strategic vision for its degree courses.
- Helps to reinforce the university's transparency, leadership and recognition by society.

The approved Framework sets out the way in which the following stages are to be structured and interrelated:

Ex-ante assessment

Before a new degree can be introduced, a curriculum proposal must be submitted, through the Universities Council, for ex-ante assessment by the corresponding QA agency. If the curriculum proposal receives a favourable assessment, it is referred to the Autonomous regional authorities, which decide whether to authorise it or not. If authorisation is given, the qualification is entered in the Ministry of Education's Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees (RUCT) and may then be introduced and taught.

The ex-ante assessment by the Agency of proposals for new degree courses approved by the university will be carried out by review panels. The objective is to ensure that new degree courses are formulated in accordance with the requirements of the EHEA, the qualifications framework, and that there is coherency between the content and learning objectives, according to the approach in each discipline.


Once the degree is running, the prevailing legislation (Royal Decree) lays down that compliance with the curriculum that has undergone an ex-ante assessment must be monitored by the corresponding QA agency.

The endorsed Framework states that it is the university that is primarily responsible for the process of monitoring its programmes and awards, and the role of AQU Catalunya is that of an external quality assurance provider. The academic coordinators of each degree must annually draw up a progress report. The Agency, through review committees, shall evaluate the programme progress reports, especially those that either contain proposals for substantial modifications and/or indicators that call for special attention, and where an external review site visit is necessary.


The Framework states that proposals for the modification of degrees shall only result from the process of monitoring, and that they are understood to be a natural outcome of this process. Any substantial modifications, i.e. those that concern either the administrative definition of the degree or its essential academic characteristics, will lead to the start of a new ex-ante assessment process.


Prior to six years after a new bachelor or doctorate degree has been running, and prior to four years in the case of a master's degree, all recognised degrees will be subject to an accreditation process, which will verify that the curriculum is being complied with according to the initial project. In the case of accreditation renewal, it will be re-entered in the Ministry of Education's Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees.

Marc per a la Marc per a la Verificació, el Seguiment, la Modificació i l'Acreditació dels títols oficials

The Agency will annually organise a number of external reviews in faculties and schools by review panels that will simultaneously review all of the recognised degree courses that are offered there. The objective is to assure that all university degrees are externally reviewed at least once within the legally stipulated period.

Formal accreditation of recognised degrees will be issued by the corresponding Accreditation Panel and based on the programme progress reports, evaluation reports produced by AQU Catalunya during the monitoring process and the external review reports. A programme accreditation report may either: be positive; be positive and include enhancement proposals; contain non-substantial modification proposals; insist on substantial modifications and therefore a repeat ex-ante assessment of the degree; or propose the withdrawal of authorisation to continue teaching the curriculum.

The objective of the Framework is to establish coherent links between all of the quality assurance processes and promote greater efficiency in the management of the different review processes that will need to be implemented in the short term in both the universities and the Agency.

1 The Board of Management is the Agency's governing body and is constituted by the vice-chancellors (rectors) and social council chairpersons of the public universities in Catalonia, the majority of the vice-chancellors from the private universities, representatives of the Catalan Administration and recognised academics.

2 Acronym from the original name of the Framework in Catalan.


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