April 2016


Faculty certification is now a reality: a small step forward in the right direction

Martí Casadesús - Director

On different levels in the university system in Catalonia, people have become weary of insistently calling for accreditation to be focused more as an institutional process as to the tedious, one-by-one analysis of each degree. This means, and to refer to models that are being applied in many European countries, prioritising the quality assurance of the internal management systems used by higher education institutions instead of evaluating each individual degree course that they run. Either this or at least a composite process whereby certification of the HEI can take place in tandem with programme accreditation.

Aside from a purely economic analysis (it will escape no-one's attention that a review of an HEI at institutional level will inevitably require fewer resources for everybody involved than a review of all of the institution’s study programmes), there is also an important conceptual aspect. If quality assurance has shown that the HEI itself is running correctly and according to certain standards, this will mean that the delivery of study programmes is also organised and taking place correctly and it thereby assures their quality. In other words, it’s as simple as quality assurance of the "process", as to each specific resulting "product".

This idea, which was revolutionary at the time, appeared some years ago and was summarised by Deming in one of his fourteen fundamental principles for quality enhancement in the book "Out of the crisis" (1986)1, namely, "Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place". For the time being, I’ll leave the other thirteen principals for other newsletters in the future.

If in some way we find ourselves currently in the "inspection on a mass basis" stage, accrediting every degree course one by one in the university system, what is clearly needed is a shift towards the quality assurance approach to review and assessment, and not inspection, that focuses more on the aspects that are really important in terms of quality in the university system in Catalonia. As it is, things occur as a matter of course, as demonstrated last year when the Ministry in Madrid finally endorsed Royal Decree 420/2015, which defined institutional accreditation. In short, this implies that HEIs that have successfully implemented an internal quality assurance system only need to accredit half of the study programmes that they deliver. This represents the first step forwards in the right direction, i.e. certification of the institution itself and accreditation of a select number of degrees that it runs.

In this regard and, in fact, prior to the abovementioned regulation, AQU Catalunya had already designed the protocol and procedure for the certification of internal quality assurance systems. In addition, AQU’s Institutional and Programme Review Commission (CAIP) has endorsed the resolution to be published next month (April) in the Official Journal of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, which sets out the conditions of the call for applications that will be open to all HEIs in Catalonia, and the first applications are already pending. This is really good news because we envisage that very soon we will have the first HEIs with their own certified internal quality assurance systems and, what is much more important, a system that is working correctly.

This is not just any old call for applications as it is clearly the first step in the right direction. The objective of all HEIs in the Catalan university system having their own certified internal quality assurance system will reduce the volume of processes and procedures that HEIs will need to undertake, but above all it will be a major tool for the continuous enhancement of study programmes, with quality management becoming even more integrated into the inherent dynamics of the running of each HEI.

We are more than convinced that it is with each small step like this that the outstanding nature of the university system in Catalonia becomes ever more firmly consolidated. Of course, it does call for everyone rowing in the same direction.

1 Deming, W. Edwards (1986). Out of the Crisis. MIT Press


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