March 2014


Accreditation: the maximum added value from the minimum amount of information

Martí Casadesús Fa - Director

Programme accreditation is, without doubt, the greatest challenge facing the Agency this year and quite possibly in the years to come. Unlike validation, which an unusual process at international level and one where state regulation is detailed and complex, this is a process that exists around the world and is, in fact, the most important work that a quality assurance (QA) agency should carry out.

The accreditation process is based on a site visit to the educational facility (faculty), in which use is made of indicators and the evidence brought together in the self-assessment report plus the information provided in the different focus groups and interviews to verify that each degree programme is being delivered according to the conditions established at the time of validation. A favourable accreditation means that faculties can certify the degree qualifications of graduates (Bachelor awards, as well doctorate degrees for those completing PhDs) for a period of six years, and in the case of those completing Master's degrees, for four years. This slight difference of two years, established by Spanish lawmakers, will make it difficult for the Agency to easily establish a regular timetable for site visits to faculties where Bachelor's and Master's programmes are organised simultaneously, which happens to be the majority of those in the university system.

Spanish legislation does not make things any easier either. The procedure, right from the start, calls for the accreditation of degrees and awards, as to educational facilities, as is more logical. Bearing in mind that many of the human and physical resources involved in a degree programme are also involved in the other programmes delivered in a faculty, and as far as the Agency is concerned, the planning of the entire process focuses on the educational facility (faculty) and therefore on all programmes of study that are organised and delivered there. Due to the different times when programmes in the same faculty started, this will unfortunately not always be possible, although the necessary mechanisms will be set in place to facilitate this as much as possible.

Under no circumstances is the accreditation process meant to become a question of “pass or fail”. Quite the opposite in fact. The process has to be one that serves as an aid to improvement and enhancement, which is something we are concerned about at the Agency. So, for example, over the last few months we have been working to integrate the process of (degree programme) monitoring as much as possible into those of accreditation, while at the same time the WINDDAT indicator database has been adapted to this new process. The objective is very clear: to obtain the maximum added value with the minimum amount of information as possible. In this way, higher education institutions are asked to provide the minimum amount of essential information during the site visits by the external review/audit panels, on the one hand, while the efforts of the Agency need to focus on providing added value to the accreditation reports, on the other. The Agency needs to be instrumental in giving impetus to the few yet specific actions that will help to continuously improve and enhance all higher degree studies in the university system in Catalonia.

In addition, the intention of the Agency is to integrate the same accreditation process into others that give added value to degree programmes. One example of this is that the Agency is establishing agreements with other recognised agencies at European level to certify and award different labels, or seals of quality, to certain degree courses through the same accreditation procedure. Another example is the methodological guidelines being developed by the Agency for the certification of internal quality assurance systems, in accordance with the guidelines of the AUDIT programme, which in the medium term should provide the universities with the procedures for the self-validation of their degree programmes, as indicated in the revised European standards and guidelines for quality assurance in higher education.

In order to meet these objectives, AQU Catalunya will visit approximately thirty faculties during 2014 and cover more than a hundred Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes. This is just a relatively small part of all of the programmes in Catalonia (approximately 10% of the total), leaving the majority for 2015 and 2016. Nevertheless, 10% of the total is a good sample because the process is new for both the Agency and the universities, the spirit of which, I repeat, is one of continuous improvement and enhancement. If we can get accreditation to be useful for everybody for improving higher education and the university system in Catalonia in a simple and effective way, we will have achieved our objective.

In order to announce the objectives and workings of the external site visits to HEIs and the accreditation process in general, a workshop entitled The accreditation of recognised degree programmes has been organised on 28 April 2014 at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in which you are invited to participate.



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