April 2015


Certification of IQAs implementation

Josep Manel Torres Solà, Coordinator of Quality Assessment department; Miquel Vidal Espinar,Institutional review issues - Caterina Cazalla Lorite, Project manager i Esther Huertas Hidalgo, Project manager

There has been a shift in the university system in Catalonia as far as the quality assurance of study programmes is concerned that has involved formal systems of internal quality assurance (IQAs) being implemented in faculties, schools and departments, in accordance with European standards (ESG/European Standards and Guidelines) and in line with the context of quality assurance at European level.

Cultura de la qualitatThis process began with the launch of the AUDIT programme in 2007 pursuant to Spanish legislation of that same year (Royal Decree 1393/2007). The AUDIT programme is organised according to a series of dimensions that are based on the ESG. The first stage of the programme covers designs (guidance and assessment) for study programme IQAs. AQU Catalunya takes a very positive view of this initial stage of the AUDIT programme for various different reasons. Firstly, because of the fact that the entire university system in Catalonia, including higher awards and programmes in the Performing Arts and Visual Arts, has participated in this initial stage of the AUDIT programme. Secondly, a considerable amount of effort has been made by universities and their organisational units (faculties, schools and departments) in working on and designing new processes for the university system, as for example in the validation, monitoring and accreditation of degrees and awards. The review and evaluation of the design of IQAs for study programmes is a practice that is particular to Spain and one that does not exist in other European countries. Nevertheless, this stage has led to improvements in the design of IQAs initially submitted by faculties, schools and departments.

It is now several years since the designs of study programmes were reviewed and evaluated, and the challenge now is consolidation of their introduction and delivery. Evidence connected with the implementation of IQAs is now available through different assessment procedures such as monitoring and the external site visits associated with accreditation. Active progress needs to be made however in assessing the stage to which IQAs are being implemented. It is for this reason that a new voluntary assessment process is being recommended that represents the second stage of the AUDIT programme, i.e. the certification of IQAs implementation. The general objective of this is to promote the culture of quality in institutions and, more specifically, to provide clear proof that certain processes are operating in the unit to ensure the proper functioning of certain operational mechanisms in the VSMA framework (validation, monitoring, modification and accreditation of degrees and qualifications).

The basis for this approach by AQU Catalunya to the certification of IQAs implementation is the faculty, school or department, which serves as the unit for review, with the focus being on improvement, enhancement and support for the implementation of processes that include the drawing up of an enhancement plan with corrective actions, where applicable. IQAs certification is therefore different from a typical audit process, which takes into account other standards and regulations, for example ISO.

According to this new review process, there are a series of prerequisites for obtaining certification, the purpose being to establish the minimum requirements for units that wish to participate. The faculty, school or department must therefore run degree programmes that come under the scope of the IQAs as well as alumni who have graduated from the programme. In addition, the design of an implemented IQAs must either have been approved (a favourable report) under the AUDIT programme or positively evaluated by the institution’s quality unit. One prerequisite is that an implemented IQAs must be mature and operating stably. The unit must also have revised the IQAs at least once and, where applicable, implemented an enhancement plan as a consequence of the revision.

The Guide to the certification of IQAs implementation, which was endorsed by AQU Catalunya’s Quality Assurance Commission on 17 April 2015, includes six dimensions that are fully aligned with those of the AUDIT programme. A few changes have been made however as a result of improvements made following the meta-evaluation. These dimensions are:

1. IQAs revision and improvement

The unit (faculty, school or department) has an IQAs with functioning processes, including processes for its revision and continuous improvement and enhancement.

2. Design, revision, improvement and enhancement of study programmes

The unit has functioning processes for the design, revision, improvement and enhancement of study programmes and, where applicable, the termination of these programmes, and also for the series of quality assurance procedures (review and evaluation) carried out under the VSMA framework (validation, monitoring, modification and accreditation).

3. Learning support and guidance systems for students

The unit has processes that function to improve and enhance the learning process for students.

4. Academic staff

The unit has processes that function to guarantee the competency and qualifications of academic staff.

5. Physical resources and services

The unit has functioning processes for the management of physical resources and services connected with the study programmes.

6. Public information

The unit has functioning processes that ensure the publication of complete, up-to-date information on the study programmes.

The dimensions include core (transversal) elements that deal with the gathering of information, which are seen as a key driver in the revision of all processes and for designing enhancement actions. In addition to a document management system for the IQAs, it is important for there to be an information management system for the monitoring of indicators connected with the system and the analysis of results and outcomes so that the processes can be revised and improved, together with the IQAs.

Additional aspects taken into account include responsibility and leadership, meaning that there has to be somebody in charge of the implementation and revision of the IQAs, as well as somebody responsible for each process. Decision-making by academic coordinators (managers) and committees participating in the processes also has to be clear and unambiguous. The chain of responsibility and stakeholder representation in the committees therefore has to be clearly defined in each process.

The duration of validity of the certificate is five (5) years and is renewable for additional periods of the same length of time, subsequent to a new external review. AQU Catalunya may monitor developments during the implementation of the certified IQAs, especially in cases where certification of the IQAs included the mandatory requirement to produce a plan for enhancement proposals (and/or corrective actions).

AQU Catalunya considers that the certification of IQAs implementation will give new impetus to the quality assurance of higher education in Catalonia and that it will strengthen the case for the self-accreditation of faculties, schools and departments as a future scenario for quality assurance in higher education.


Generalitat de Catalunya

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