January 2013

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Programme accreditation

Anna Prades Nebot and Carme Edo Ros - Project managers to Quality Assessment Department

The Framework for the validation (ex-ante assessment), monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees (VSMA Framework), which links together the quality assurance processes that take place throughout the life-cycle of all degree courses, was defined and developed two years ago by AQU Catalunya. With validation, monitoring and modification all successfully introduced, the final process in the VSMA Framework, namely, programme accreditation, has now entered the design and implementation stage.




What is accreditation?

Accreditation is the process whereby either a programme of study or educational institution provides information on its activity and achievements to an external body that independently evaluates this information in order to issue a public judgment based on set standards for the value and quality of the programme or institution.

Accreditation, as designed at AQU Catalunya, has three clear purposes:

  • To assure the quality of programmes of study in accordance with established levels of qualification and the criteria laid down in the current regulations.
  • To facilitate the internal quality enhancement of programmes and services developed by Catalan universities.
  • To guarantee valid and reliable information as an aid for decision-making by users of the system of higher education.

The regulatory framework

Royal Decree 1393/2007 lays down the guidelines, conditions and procedure for the accreditation of degree programmes. In particular, it establishes that recognised degrees must undergo accreditation within a specific period of time after they have been introduced (six years in the case of a Bachelor's or doctorate degree, and four years in the case of a Master's degree), which is the proof that the curriculum is being followed according to the initial project. In the event that the programme is accredited, it is re-entered in the Spanish register of universities, faculties and degrees (RUCT).

The proposal of AQU Catalunya

In order to comply with this legal mandate, AQU Catalunya relies on three principles:

  1. Only the Catalan universities, both individually and as a system, can guarantee the quality of the programmes of study and educational services that they offer. The function of AQU is to collaborate as an external validation agent in the achievement of this purpose.
  2. The reference point for the methodological approach to all of AQU's processes, and in particular accreditation, is the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ENQA, 2005), which were adopted by the Ministers responsible for higher education in the Bergen Communiqué (2005). The adopted model must be equivalent to international accreditation schemes.
  3. Accreditation is the last step in the VSMA Framework and, as such, must gather evidence accumulated in the introduction and monitoring of programmes that have been previously validated and authorised.

Within this context AQU Catalunya has developed an initial draft of the standards for the Agency's process for the accreditation of recognised degree programmes. In drawing up the draft, account was taken of recommendations made in the 2012 meta-evaluation workshop.

These standards, which have been endorsed by AQU's Standing Committee for Quality Assurance (CAQ), are set out in a document that is to be published in the near future as the Guide to the accreditation of recognised Bachelor and Master's degrees. They will subsequently be made subject to public consultation by the stakeholder groups.

The accreditation standards

The proposed model is structured according to six dimensions where compliance is compulsory, together with a series of optional dimensions.

Dimensions where compliance is compulsory:

Quality of programme design STANDARD: The programme's design (competence profile and curriculum structure) is up to date according to the requirements of the discipline, and it conforms to the level of study laid down in the Spanish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education (MECES).
The competence profile must be relevant within the discipline and be in correspondence with the competences set out by national and international networks and entities. The competence profile must also correspond to the level of study in the proposal in accordance with the Spanish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education (MECES), which is aligned with the European framework built on the Dublin Descriptors, to allow for mutual recognition between all of the member states of the European Union. Compliance with this standard is automatic following the initial validation of the programme and will consequently not be subject to assessment in the interviews.

Quality of teaching staff STANDARD: The teaching staff on the faculty's degree courses is sufficient and adequate, according to the characteristics of the programmes and the number of students.
Teachers are the single most important learning resource available to students. Assurance of the quality and suitability of teaching staff conforms directly with the European standards for internal quality assurance within higher education institutions, specifically standard 1.4 (Quality assurance of teaching staff), in which "Institutions should have ways of satisfying themselves that staff involved with the teaching of students are qualified and competent to do so. They should be available to those undertaking external reviews, and commented upon in reports" (ENQA, 2005).  

Efficacy of the learning support systems STANDARD: The institution provides adequate and effective guidance services and resources for student learning.
In addition to the teaching staff, institutions provide a series of resources to motivate, facilitate and enhance learning in students, regardless of their location (on campus, work practice, distance learning, etc.). Within this context, standard 1.5. (Learning resources and student support) states that "Institutions should ensure that the resources available for the support of student learning are adequate and appropriate for each programme offered" (ENQA, 2005).

Efficacy of the internal system of quality assurance STANDARD: The institution has a formally established and implemented internal system of quality assurance that effectively assures the quality and continuous enhancement of the programme.
The internal system of quality assurance is a key instrument for defining the learning activities in the faculty, and it complies with the European standards and guidelines for internal quality assurance (1.1. Policy and procedures for quality assurance and 1.2. Approval, monitoring and periodic review of programmes and awards). The efficacy of the internal system of quality assurance is ultimately evident when it complies with the requirements for facilitating the accreditation of a programme that is delivered satisfactorily.

Relevance of the public information STANDARD: The institution appropriately informs all of the stakeholder groups of both the characteristics of the programme and the quality assurance management processes.
The transparency of information is a key element, and it generates trust and enhances competitiveness on the basis of the quality of university education. For this reason, it appears in one way or another in all of the declarations and communiqués by the ministers responsible for higher education in the EHEA, as set out in, amongst others, the Communiqués of the Bergen and London Conferences of European Ministers responsible for Higher Education.

The quality of programme outcomes STANDARD: Study and assessment activities are coherent with the degree's competence profile. The outcomes of these processes are adequate in terms of both academic outcomes, according to the MECES level for the programme, and the academic and employment indicators.
The learning outcomes of a degree course are what the students are expected to demonstrate on completion of their studies. They define and impart identity to the degree programme. The evaluation of learning is the process whereby the achievement of learning outcomes and the consequent making of decisions is determined. It is for this reason that the assessment of students is one of the European standards for internal quality assurance within higher education institutions (standard 1.3. Assessment of students). Learning activities and the demands for assessment must be relevant and appropriate for certification of the different types of learning reflected in the competence profile (expected learning outcomes).


In addition to these dimensions, the accreditation guide will also offer the possibility of the external validation of the following optional dimensions:

  • The learning outcomes assessment model
  • Internationalisation
  • The interaction between teaching and research
  • The sustainability of the faculty's programmes
  • The added value of the "faculty's programmes

The objective of these optional dimensions is the recognition of good practices in matters of strategic interest for the universities and higher education as a whole in Catalonia.


Generalitat de Catalunya

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

© 2013 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008