September 2011

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Overall assessment of the ex-ante accreditation and modification processes (recognised degree programmes)

Josep Manel Torres Solà - Coordinator of Quality Assessment department, AQU Catalunya

With Royal Decree 861/2010, 2 July, which amended Royal Decree 1393/2007, 29 October, concerning the academic regulations for recognised university qualifications and awards, jurisdiction over the ex-ante accreditation of recognised university degree programmes offered by Catalan universities was handed back to AQU Catalunya.

The Agency has subsequently developed a guidebook for the ex-ante accreditation of degree programmes that sets out the legal requirements for the process and gives guidelines for the universities as regards programme design and the drawing up of reports for programme ex-ante accreditation. The guidebook for the design and ex-ante accreditation of Bachelor and Master's programmes was agreed upon by consensus with the Catalan universities following a process that involved consultation and discussions and was approved by the Quality Assessment Commission on 24 January 2011.

The guidebook sets out the criteria and guidelines for the ex-ante accreditation and modification of degree proposals agreed to and approved by the REACU/Spanish network of university quality assurance agencies for the evaluation of proposals.

The evaluation process deals with four key issues prior to the introduction of any Bachelor or Master's degree programme:

a) What is the aim of the degree programme and why is it being proposed?
b) How will students acquire the competences?
c) What are the envisaged outcomes?
d) What assurance is there that the outcomes will be achieved?

Before a degree programme can be introduced, these four questions therefore need to be answered in a clear and acceptable way in a proposal that is organised into ten sections that range from the name of the degree to the internal quality assurance system and aspects as important as the learning outcomes (competences), access and admission, programme content and the human and physical resources.

The Agency carries out ex-ante accreditation through five special review panels, each one of which covers a specific subject area (Arts and Humanities; Social and Legal Sciences; Experimental Sciences; Health Sciences; and Engineering and Architecture). These review panels come under the AQU's Quality Assessment Commission (CAQ) and are comprised of academics, professionals and students. The position of secretary on each review panel is held by a QA adviser from the Agency. There is a total of seventy-eight (78) reviewers on the panels, with external support being provided by an additional thirty-three people, the majority of them from outside the higher education system in Catalonia.

Ex-ante accreditation

During the first nine months of 2011, 71 proposals for new degree programmes (7 Bachelors and 64 Masters) were submitted by Catalan universities. While the majority of the proposals were given a favourable assessment, 3 out of 10 were given an unfavourable assessment. The main reasons for this had to do with the institution's potential, in particular the absence of a tradition or culture in the studies in question and related lines of research and academic staff.

One aspect to be resolved in the ex-ante accreditation process is the timetable for submitting proposals for new degree programmes and awards. Delays in the universities submitting reports led to a situation in which no Bachelor's degree had been (ex-ante) accredited by the time the university admissions process (preinscripció) started. It must be borne in mind that 70% of the proposals were submitted between February and March, 20% between April and May and the remaining 10% in June and July. AQU Catalunya is working with all of the stakeholders involved in the process to optimize the timetable for submitting proposals so that they can all be evaluated between March and April.

Reports received according to university

Bachelor 1   2             2   2 7
Master's 5 10 4 7 2 2 5 3 7 5 6 8 64


6 10 6 7 2 2 5 3 7 7 6 10 71

Result of ex-ante accreditation, according to subject area/review panel 

  Favourable Unfavourable Still under review Withdrew Total
Humanities 3 2 4 1 10
Social Sciences 13 12 3 5 33
Sciences     3 1 4
Health Sciences 4 1 1   6
Engineering and Architecture 17   1   18


37 15 12 7 71


Proposals to introduce changes to curricula have been submitted for a total of one hundred (100) degree programmes. Practically all of the applications involve changes of a regulatory nature to bring programmes and qualifications in line with recent legislation, especially Royal Decree 861/2010. 20% of the modification proposals introduce a preparatory adaptation course for holders of pre-Bologna three-year degrees and diplomas. The remaining modifications involve changes in the time when courses are given and the incorporation of elective components and courses. Only 13% of the modifications proposed were rejected, mainly because they involved changes that altered the nature and objectives of the degree (a decrease or increase of up to 50% in the total number of credits in the degree or changes to the core subjects in the curriculum).

As in the previous case, one aspect to be optimized is the timetable for submitting modification proposals.

Reports received according to university 

Bachelor 1 23 3 17 6   2   69
Master's 5 8   13 1 3   1         31


6 31 3 30 7 6 2 1 5 2 7   100

Result of the evaluation of modifications to degree programmes, according to subject area/review panel 

  Favourable Unfavourable Still under review Withdrew Total
Humanities 11 6     17
Social Sciences 40 5 3   48
Sciences 1   1   2
Health Sciences 14   2 1 17
Engineering and Architecture 15 1     16


81 12 6 1 100

Enllaç extern Ex-ante accreditation and degree modification reports issued 


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