January 2017


Continuous improvement in the IQAs certification pilot project

Juan José Tarí - Chairman of the external review panel for the IQAs certification pilot project and University of Alicante

Certification of a faculty's internal quality assurance system (IQAs) goes one step further than the accreditation of study programmes and the AUDIT programme. Faculties have worked hard on designing their QA systems and are currently putting great effort into the accreditation of their study programmes. Those that wish to go one step further can take the pathway of continuous improvement through certification of their IQAs implementation (ex-post IQAs certification).

This programme is currently a pilot project run by AQU that enables faculties to undergo IQAs certification. Certification is at faculty level and not programme level, as is the case with programme accreditation. The certification procedure is based on AQU Catalunya's Guide to the Certification of IQAs Implementation, which identifies six dimensions:

  • Dimension 1. IQAs review and enhancement
  • Dimension 2. Programme design, review and enhancement
  • Dimension 3. Learning support and student guidance systems
  • Dimension 4. Academic staff
  • Dimension 5. Physical resources and services
  • Dimension 6. Public information

Each dimension includes a series of standards, with the emphasis in each dimension on the final standards based on the information gathered on the IQAs, study programmes, learning support systems, teaching resources, physical resources and services, and public information. Using these stardards, a faculty can analyse the information to make enhancement-based decisions and thereby comply with the last standard in each dimension. The gathering of information for analysis and improvement is a characteristic of the certification pilot project that distinguishes it from programme accreditation and enables the faculty to follow the path of continuous improvement.Cicle PDCA

This process of continuous improvement, which is clearly evident in AQU Catalunya's certification pilot project, is the basis for any quality system. It is connected with the PDCA cycle (plan-do-check-act; see figure) which is followed by organisations that are implicitly committed to quality and truly apply the philosophy of quality management. The cycle shows that the work in an organisation, or even just for people like us (academics, a faculty's administration, etc.) is planned, carried out, controlled and ultimately improved. Real improvements to our work and activities take place when this process is carried out on a continuous basis. The PCDA cycle is a never-ending cycle of continuous improvement that can be applied when the end (final) standards for the six dimensions of the certification pilot project are complied with.

Writing out procedures that are more or less extensive and carrying them out does not necessarily mean that a faculty is applying quality management. It is very simple to document procedures, but the difficult part is in transmitting the procedures to staff so that they believe in and apply them and in making decisions that assure and enhance quality in the faculty, from one academic year to the next. PDCA becomes a closed cycle when this occurs and this is when improvement really takes places.

In order to comply with each of the six dimensions, faculties clearly have to put a lot of effort into documenting their procedures and filling out records, as well as endorsing other necessary documents for the correct running of the faculty (for example, timetables, teaching assessment, etc.). Up until now faculties have been doing all of this as a way of complying with quality enhancement procedures established outside of the universidades (ENQA, AQU Catalunya, etc.) and/or for internal reasons. On its own, however, this is not sufficient and a table of indicators is also necessary for faculty heads and administration to be able to analyse and make quality enhancement-based decisions. This allows for the last part of the PDCA cycle to be applied, which is encapsulated in the final standards for each dimension in the guide. In this way continuous improvement comes to form part of the management and running of the faculty on a permanent basis from one academic year to the next.


Generalitat de Catalunya

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

© 2017 AQU Catalunya - Legal number B-21.910-2008