November 2012

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The JOQAR project: towards a European joint programme accreditation system?

Josep Grifoll Saurí - Head of Quality Assessment department

JOQARThe Bologna Process and the goal of establishing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) present a picture of different rates and varying degrees of achievement. Any analysis of the progress being made in European policies on higher education must however take into account the competences of the member states themselves in this matter. The European Commission and other authorities and key agents can clearly make proposals for the development of the sector; nevertheless, all propositions concerning higher education always require the approval of the corresponding ministers responsible for higher education.

One of the areas in which the establishment of the EHEA has made most progress is quality assurance. The great diversity in the use of quality assurance mechanisms by the different agencies however has made increasingly apparent the need for an appropriate proposal at European level for joint university programmes that, because of their very nature, require coordinated strategies for external quality assurance purposes.

While AQU Catalunya had earlier on (2005-2006) participated in the Erasmus Mundus TEEP2 pilot project on the external evaluation of joint programmes, an interesting development in 2010 was that the Agency accepted the invitation to form part of the European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA), a group of quality assurance agencies that also form part of ENQA and specialise in accreditation. The objective of this consortium, which is made up of sixteen members from twelve different countries, is to facilitate accreditation and, in particular, the international acceptance of decisions through mutual recognition agreements. The signing of such agreements is not automatic, and international recognition for processes carried out by the agency, in this case AQU Catalunya, is necessary to show that they are consistent with the Consortium's requirements.

The prompt application of these mutual recognition agreements is inherent to joint university programmes of an international nature. This is because, in the case of a joint programme that is given in various countries, any member agency of the Consortium that carries out an external review can refer the results of the review to the other accreditation agencies so they can be adopted as a fundamental element for the accreditation of the programme at the national level.

The JOQAR project is the first great test for this scheme for the mutual recognition of decisions on evaluations carried out by different European agencies.

In this particular case four joint programmes, involving twenty universities in twelve European countries, are to be reviewed. There are also six universities in other continents.

Eight European QA agencies (from Germany, Austria, Catalonia, Slovenia, Spain, Netherlands and Flanders, and Switzerland) are contributing to the evaluation process; there are two non-European agencies (Colombia and India) involved; and four official recognition bodies from Denmark, Netherlands, Poland and the UK. The involvement of ENIC-NARIC centres in the JOQAR project opens up new opportunities for linkage between quality assurance and the recognition of degrees.

The evaluation methodology in the JOQAR project consists of a core package and a system of standards and criteria accepted by all of the participating agencies, together with an annex where each agency has included the particular features of it's system of higher education, in terms of both the set requirements for programme quality and the evaluation procedure. The aim is for the review teams to work with and according to the core package and in compliance with the national requirements during the evaluation process.

In this regard, ANECA and AQU Catalunya have agreed to the contents of the annex for Spain. The intention of both agencies has been to keep the evaluation framework as simple as possible, given that the core package needs to satisfactorily comply with the requirements laid down by the Spanish government for recognised programmes. The requirements corresponding to Spain that are included in the JOQAR methodology consequently refer to the setting and monitoring of basic indicators of the development of the programme based on set objectives for graduation, drop-out and academic achievement rates in terms of efficiency and success.

Although the inclusion of the corresponding national benchmarks in the core methodology proposal for JOQAR does not appear to imply any big change in the current framework, their role within the evaluation process will greatly clarify the steps to be taken towards a European framework for the accreditation of joint programmes.

The JOQAR project should allow for recommendations to be drawn up that facilitate regulatory change at the state level, as well as for the procedures used by QA agencies, to bring about an actual European system for the accreditation of joint programmes, the premise being that higher education needs to satisfy students with an international background as well as the production sector that employs graduates from these programmes.

Although it initially appeared that the different national legislations on the requirements to be complied with by degrees in each country appeared to be problematic, JOQAR has also made evident the need to better combine evaluation strategies at the European scale. It remains to be seen which method is the most effective and efficient; for this, aspects like the composition of the evaluation teams, the use of evidence and the structure of the reports to be drawn up on programme quality will all need to be taken into consideration.

Programmes participating in the JOQAR project:

The evaluation methodology that has been designed envisages a core part that is common to all, with the following standards:

Standard 1: General conditions

  • Criterion 1a: Recognition
  • Criterion 1b: Cooperation agreement for the joint programme
  • Criterion 1c: Added value of the joint programme

Standard 2: Intended learning outcomes

  • Criterion 2a: Development and joint acceptance of the learning outcomes
  • Criterion 2b: Learning outcomes according to the qualifications framework
  • Criterion 2c: Relationship between outcomes and discipline/professional sector

Standard 3: Programme

  • Criterion 3a: Student admission
  • Criterion 3b: Programme structure
  • Criterion 3c: Distribution of credits

Standard 4: Internal quality assurance system

  • Criterion 4a: Programme-level integrated system
  • Criterion 4b: Stakeholder involvement
  • Criterion 4c: Effectiveness of the quality assurance system (enhancement)

Standard 5: Resources and student support

  • Criterion 5a: Facilities and installations
  • Criterion 5b: Student support (learning outcomes achievement)
  • Criterion 5c: Student services

Standard 6: Teaching and learning

  • Criterion 6a: Composition of the teaching staff
  • Criterion 6b: Student assessment
  • Criterion 6c: Learning outcomes achievement

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© 2012 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008