October 2017


Subject benchmark statements, the first step towards self-validation (oct/17)

Martí Casadesús Fa - Director

Programme accreditation, or the ex-post quality assurance of degree courses, is the procedure carried out by the overwhelming majority, if not all, quality assurance agencies around the world. It is clearly our “core business” and it is the one that fundamentally defines a QA agency for higher education.

Validation, or the ex-ante accreditation of a programme prior to introduction, on the other hand, is a procedure that very few agencies undertake. For AQU Catalunya and all other QA agencies in Spain that belong to the European register it is mandatory pursuant to prevailing legislation (Royal Decree 1393/2007).

At some point it is likely that we will follow in the footsteps of many other European countries, like Denmark and partially the Netherlands, and focus just on ex-post accreditation, with validation (ex-ante accreditation) becoming an internal procedure in institutions by virtue of their autonomy. It is clear to me that this is the right way to go. The universities and other higher education institutions in Catalonia have more than demonstrated their ability to manage these procedures internally, together with effective quality assurance. This just leaves one thing to be assured at the end of the whole process, and that is the subsequent accountability to society.

In spite of the fact that our hands are tied by the prevailing legislation, it is our opinion that we need to move forward in this direction regardless. In this respect (see details of this in two articles in this newsletter), AQU Catalunya has produced two subject benchmark statements, one for programmes in Tourism and another covering Computing. The purpose of these two short documents is to establish benchmarks for HEIs in Catalonia to carry out the ex-ante accreditation of programmes independently and autonomously. Pursuant to current regulations, ex-ante accreditation will nevertheless still need to be definitively endorsed first by AQU Catalunya and then by the Spanish Council for Universities (Consejo de Universidades). For the time being, however, the first step has been made.

This clearly implies a new change of model whereby institutions are given greater autonomy and thereby greater flexibility in creating new programmes. In order for this new paradigm to make sense, subject benchmark statements need to be produced to cover as many programmes as possible that are being run at institutions in Catalonia, or at least the most important ones. We have already started work on this and in the coming months will be designing subject benchmark statements for programmes in Economics, Business Management and Administration, and Design. In addition, a pilot project has been started involving one programme and the system that will be implemented according to the guidelines given the subject benchmark statements already designed.

Step by step we are underpinning and reinforcing the Agency's knowledge so that, legislation permitting, in the medium term a procedure can be implemented that is more fit for purpose for the university system in Catalonia.


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