September 2014


It’s not the duration, but the quality that counts

Martí Casadesús Fa - Director, AQU Catalunya

Even though they have been talking about it for some years now, and undoubtedly right from the very day when the current legislation (Royal Decree) on the new structure for recognised degree programmes was approved, it would seem that now they really mean business. The Ministry has already put forward a proposal to modify the duration of Bachelor-level degrees, from the current 240 ECTS to 180 or rather any value between 180 and 240 ECTS.

It is not for me to talk about the desirability or appropriateness of this change, although anything that sees us more aligned with Europe should undoubtedly be better than those things that may distance us from it. It is true however that such a far-reaching change will face many obstacles and lead to additional work; for example, the most likely is the ex-post modification of many Master’s programmes, which are currently programmed in the majority of cases with 60 ECTS. Nevertheless, one should also be aware of the moment in time.

There must be no secret however about the difficulty and strain of implementing a substantial change in a context that is clearly unconsolidated, with the first cohorts of students about to graduate from post-Bologna degree studies and AQU Catalunya just beginning the process of study programme accreditation, which should be the final stage of the VSMA framework (a framework programme for the validation, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees). Nevertheless, good relations between the universities and Agency must allow for the quality assurance of degrees under any circumstance or change, such as the ones we have become accustomed to in recent years, and that study programmes are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.

If a change of this kind is ultimately approved, aside from any agreement with the universities or not, whether there is any flexibility as regards a time frame or not, or if any requirements and/or limitations are included according to the type of study programme or not, AQU Catalunya has to be prepared to facilitate the adaptation of current quality assurance procedures to all study programmes that, at this stage, are currently being delivered in another format.

Quality assurance procedures must clearly continue to take into account the general interests of society, in spite of the fact that the economic situation may continue to change. As a general principle, all that validation is required to do is ensure that a future study programme is coherent and viable and that it will fulfil the expectations of students and all other stakeholders.

In the same way that the plans used to build a house need to ensure that, in addition to it being solid, it complies with the minimum requirements for people to live there comfortably, for study programmes this can be summarised in three fundamental aspects: that the degree programme is coherent, that delivery takes place through the students’ acquisition of skills and a quality curriculum, and that the faculty or school delivering the programme can demonstrate its ability to obtain sufficient human resources and funding to introduce and run the programme.

Within this context, it would appear logical that reducing the duration of an existing study programme should imply a shorter validation process than the current one, which all told has already been simplified over the last year. If we are ready to build a three-hundred square metre house, we’re also ready to build one that is two-hundred square metres in size, provided of course that the distribution of the rooms is coherent, i.e. we don’t want to end up without a kitchen, for example. Insofar as what might eventually occur, AQU Catalunya has therefore already started the process of producing a validation procedure for such cases, with the fundamental focus on the scope of the resulting curriculum and, above all, the assurance of programme quality.

This however does not alter the fact that, for society in general, modifying the duration of a particular degree may seem incoherent, especially as cases could occur where a degree that leads to certain very specific professional attributes and that, over the last five years, has gone from being a three-year to a four-year course, could now for example become a three-and-a-half year degree. This seems somewhat difficult to understand, but it is also true that there are many examples in Europe of the same degree being taught in different universities in the same country, but where the duration varies.

Without any shadow of doubt, the role of AQU Catalunya is the quality assurance of degree courses, regardless of their duration. We are already working on this matter and will be ready to address this challenge, should it occur.


Generalitat de Catalunya

c/. dels Vergós, 36-42. 08017 Barcelona. Tel.: +34 93 268 89 50

© 2014 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008