November 2012

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Simplification of the validation process

Josep Anton Ferré Vidal - Director, AQU Catalunya

We always used to go hiking, so as soon as we were able to, which was one summer in the Pyrenees, with the business of the baby's bottle and nappy all completed, we got out our hiking boots again. With a backpack baby carrier that some friends had lent us we went on our first walk, holding one toddler by the hand and with the other in the baby carrier. We had such a great time that we decided to go again during the Christmas holidays. Lo and behold, the Three Wise Men – who were still around at that time – brought us our own baby carrier, so on a sunny winter Sunday we again set out. What was a disaster! Our youngest one had grown so much that we both came back with our backs out of kilter and never wanting to repeat the experience again!

Will the same thing happen with programme validation? In 2011 there were 71 programmes to validate (and 100 to be modified). The following year (the 2011-12 academic year), the number of validations had increased threefold to 213 (and 79 modifications). This year, baby has grown a lot, perhaps too much. According to estimates, there will be 427 validations (and more than 80 modifications), of which 220 are for doctoral degrees, 186 Masters and 21 Bachelors. In 2011 reports took 127 days to be issued on average (71% of which were favourable). Last year they took nearly six months to be issued (of which 90% were favourable). This year we'll do whatever we can to avoid going too much over this time limit of six months, because keeping within this limit would apparently require a miracle. Nevertheless, miracles are like inspiration for artists – when it comes it's much better to be working because its effects then get multiplied.

The Agency has received no indication of any signs of the complexity of the Ministry's online application programme for drawing up reports being simplified in the short term. For this reason we have set in motion a series of actions to speed up the process and accelerate the parts that are dependent solely on us.

Firstly, the criteria for simplifying modifications set in place last year are being continued. Secondly, all of the universities have already been offered ex-ante accreditation of the core aspects of blocks of Bachelor and Master's degrees, in the same way that was begun last year with doctoral degrees and which has been going very well. Thirdly, and internally speaking, the review of specific aspects is to be simplified. This will mean that the review panels will put less emphasis on all parts of the report being perfect, i.e. any information that is lacking will go down on record, but if it is not essential no further information will be requested.

So what will be the issues that the special review panels put more emphasis on? Which ones will now be essential? The first thing is compliance with the prevailing general regulations and compliance with the university's own regulations. There are several aspects of the legislation governing Bachelor and Master's degrees as well as that governing doctoral degrees that can quite frankly be improved; it is not however the Agency's job to correct any such shortcomings by pretending that certain validation proposals comply when they don't, as this would be incorrect procedure.

Secondly, there is a set of six critical aspects, all connected with degree design, which can be summarised into six questions:

  • Does the level of the degree correspond with that of the specified Bachelor/Master's programme, and is it appropriately named?
  • Is there a competence profile, more than one or none at all? Is it coherent with the learning outcomes and the programme of study/curriculum?
  • Are the university entrance requirements and/or bridging courses adequate?
  • Do the envisaged activities develop all of the stated competences?
  • Have the activities been well planned (integration-scope-ECTS study load)?
  • Are there any external benchmarks for a degree of this type?

The last question provides an important clue. It is easier to obtain positive answers to these questions if use is made of the model of degrees that are already running and that have good results (i.e. outcomes). A good design can be copied.

On the other hand, it is impossible to copy the answers to the third of the four key questions (see below) put by the review panels, as they refer to the institution's potential to effectively develop the degree:

  • Are there adequate human resources to develop the activities? 
  • Are teaching staff sufficiently qualified to provide the specified level?
  • Are there adequate physical resources to do this?
  • Is there an internal quality assurance system to ensure that all activities are developed as planned?

If we were able to design our own validation application programme, the focus could now be put on this matter. It will still take a little time for this to happen however. Or maybe not, who knows! Meanwhile, the baby carrier has been left at home and we're all off hiking together, hand in hand and keeping pace with each other. Let's see how far we can get!


Generalitat de Catalunya

C. de Sancho de Ávila, 125-129, 1a planta 08018 Barcelona. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

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