October 2017


The use of subject benchmark statements in the design of new programmes

Concepción Herruzo Fonayet and Esther Huertas Hidalgo - Senior advisors

The Framework for the ex-ante accreditation, monitoring, modification and ex-post accreditation of recognised programmes (VSMA Framework, AQU Catalunya, 2010) links together the four quality assurance procedures (ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and ex-post accreditation) that all recognised programmes of study undergo in accordance with prevailing legislation in order to establish a conceptual commonality and promote greater efficiency in the management of the various QA and review procedures.

The VSMA Framework [ca] was reviewed and updated in 2016 so as to provide for the latest circumstances and requirements. Among the various aspects that the new Framework revolves around, this article looks at subject benchmark statements and their use in facilitating the design of new programmes (cluster benchmarking) , that AQU Catalunya is developing for each discipline. The purpose of subject benchmark statements is to provide coherency and identity and to define what is expected of a graduate in terms of learning outcomes and the skills required in the subject.
A subject benchmark statement must clearly identify the degree programmes that it applies to, together with the corresponding key competences (core skills) and intended learning outcomes. Its purpose is to be used as a reference point in the design, delivery and review of academic programmes by providing general guidance for articulating the learning outcomes associated with any given programme. Subject benchmark statements are not intended to represent a set curriculum in a subject or to prescribe set approaches to teaching, learning or assessment. Instead, they allow for flexibility and innovation in programme design within a framework agreed by the subject community.

In order to define subject benchmark statements, AQU Catalunya sets up working groups that incorporate both a systemic approach and consensus. Their work is based on international benchmark statements , together with the experience and information obtained so far from QA and review procedures involving bachelor and master's programmes offered by institutions in Catalonia. The endorsement of these subject benchmark statements is competence of the Institutional and Programme Review Commission (CAIP).

Once the subject benchmark statements have been developed, a periodic assessment will be carried out of the programme clusters, a procedure that will also include international reviewers, bearing in mind two fundamental aspects:

  • Description: Fitness for purpose, quality and applicability of the benchmarks used in relation to the international context.
  • Consistency of the programmes included: Name, type of programmes included and trends in their basic indicators. Analysis should provide for the identification of the features to be looked at in more detail in the site visits associated with a programme's accreditation.

During 2017 AQU Catalunya has so far developed the subject benchmark statements for Computing and Tourism. The structure of these documents is as follows:

  • Nature and scope of the subject, in which the subject and related subjects are defined.
  • Skills, where an accurate picture is given of the skills in the subject and subject specialisations within the context of Catalonia.
  • Benchmark standards, where the skills required of a graduate of a bachelor or master's programme in the subject are identified.
  • Self-benchmarking, which is conceived as a reference guide to the design, delivery and review of study programmes and offers general guidelines for establishing the learning outcomes associated with programmes.
  • Checklist for verifying that the course of studies is aligned with the standards set out in the subject benchmark statement.


Benchmark informàtica, The term computing applies to an increasingly diverse group of degree programmes that are all based on the fundaments of Computer Science. The benchmark statement identifies Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, Information Technology and Information Systems as subject areas and outlines the content covered by these subjects. The benchmark statement establishes the importance of the awareness in programme design of the wide range of other subjects that it applies to, together with the core ideas and points to be covered by any degree programme in Computing, which include:

  • The concept of computational thinking, recognition of its main elements and their relevance in everyday life.
  • The balance of practice and theory in such a way that a clear understanding of the underlying principles supports any practical activity.
  • The ability to analyse (and develop, if necessary) computing and information systems. A clear understanding of the system and how it operates gives a deeper knowledge of what the system does or the way(s) in which it is used.
  • Programmes should not be based on short-life knowledge. Instead of focusing on current industrial needs, graduates should be able to solve future and unknown practical problems. Adaptability is an essential requirement in all undergraduate degrees in Computing.

Membership of the panel of experts for the subject benchmark statement for Computing:

  • Pere Brunet Crosa (Polytechnic University of Catalonia, UPC), chairman
  • Ricardo Baeza-Yates (Universidad de Chile)
  • Gerard Berry (Collège de France)
  • Enrique Castillo (University of Cantabria)
  • José Duato Marín (Polytechnic University of Valencia)
  • Ramon López de Mántaras (Spanish National Research Council, CSIC)
  • Juan José Moreno Navarro (Polytechnic University of Madrid)
  • Isidro Ramos Salavert (Polytechnic University of Valencia)
  • Hans-Peter Seidel (Max-Planck-Institut Informatik)
  • Concepción Herruzo (AQU Catalunya), secretary


Benchmark TurismeThe number of bachelor and master's degrees in Tourism and/or related subjects offered by institutions in Catalonia has increased in recent years. A wide diversity of degrees and curricula are currently delivered at institutions in Catalonia and these are expected to continue to evolve in response to developments in the subject and to future needs in society.The subject benchmark statement in tourism therefore concentrates on general outcomes at undergraduate level and does not specify a core tourism and hospitality-related curriculum. Neither does it include a syllabus or body of knowledge.

The benchmark statement sets out the skills and content according to the three main subject areas that it applies to, namely, hospitality, leisure, and tourism.

Membership of the panel of experts for the Subject Benchmark Statement for Tourism:

  • Salvador Anton (Rovira i Virgili University), chairman
  • Marién André (University of Barcelona/UB)
  • José Antonio Donaire (University of Girona)
  • Pere Duran (Director General for Tourism, Barcelona)
  • Xavier Font (University of Surrey)
  • Bruno Hallé (MAGMA)
  • Marcelo Royo (University of Valencia)
  • Esther Huertas (AQU Catalunya), secretary


1 For example, the work by the QAA : (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/assuring-standards-and-quality/the-quality-code/subject-benchmark-statements), the World Federation for Medical Education's global standards for quality improvement, and EUR-ACE® Framework Standards and Guidelines – ENAEE.


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