AQU Catalunya is the primary instrument for quality promotion and assurance in the higher education system in Catalonia. It is a public body subject to private law, which comes under the corresponding government department with jurisdiction over the universities, it is a separate legal entity with full legal capacity to act and it has its own privileges and liabilities.
Set up as a consortium between the Catalan Government (Generalitat de Catalunya) and the universities on 29 October 1996, the Agency was the first quality assurance agency in Spain. Its activities focused on the development of evaluation methodologies and review management, mainly with regard to university degree courses.
With the passing of the Catalan Universities Act (LUC), 19 February 2003, the Agency was renamed (Agència per a la Qualitat del Sistem Universitari de Catalunya) and its authority extended to include the certification and accreditation of higher education institutions and university academic staff.
The purpose of AQU Catalunya is to carry out the evaluation, accreditation and certification of quality in the universities and higher education institutions in Catalonia.
AQU Catalunya is a full member of ENQA (the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education), it is registered with EQAR (European Quality Assurance Register) and is ISO 9001 certified.
The main areas for action by AQU Catalunya are the review of degree programmes, higher education institutions and university activities and systems (since 1996), the assessment of university academic staff (pre-recruitment assessment since 2003 and merit assessment since 2006) and establishing and building on cooperation and collaboration with other national, regional and international agencies that carry out evaluation, accreditation and certification.
In accordance with international standards, AQU Catalunya acts independently in exercising its authority and carrying out the powers attributed to it in law.
The Agency's technical independence is guaranteed under the existing legal framework and by its internal organisation procedures:
The defining and workings of review and evaluation methods and procedures, the selection, nomination and appointment of external experts, and assessment of the outcomes of quality assurance processes are thus undertaken autonomously and independently of the Government and the universities.
Being the instrument that promotes quality in higher education and the universities in Catalonia carries with it responsibilities. The implementation of quality assurance in AQU Catalunya itself is a strategic decision aimed at continuing to enhance the Agency's activities and adapt to the changing times that the universities in Catalonia are facing.
The commitments to quality expressed by the AQU Board of Management are as follows:
Compliance with European standards
All review and evaluation work by AQU Catalunya is carried out in accordance with the European standards so that its review and evaluation activities are credible and applicable within the European framework of higher education.
In 2005, ENQA, in collaboration with the EUA, EURASHE and ESU agreed to develop, at the request of the European ministers for higher education, the the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG),for internal and external quality assurance of higher education institutions and for their use by external quality assurance (QA) agencies. In the Bergen Communiqué (2005), the European ministers for higher education adopted the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the EHEA as proposed by ENQA.
In 2007, AQU Catalunya successfully passed the ENQA external review process that is based on compliance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), which, according to the review report, recognised the Agency's professionalism and credibility in its review and evaluation activities in relation to study programmes and academic staff.
Recognition by ENQA led, in December 2008, to AQU Catalunya's registration with EQAR (European Quality Assurance Register), a register of quality assurance agencies that lists those that substantially comply with a common set of principles for quality assurance in Europe.
The Agency's internal quality management system, which is based on the international quality management standard ISO 9001:2000, sets out the way in which quality assurance is embedded in the activities developed by AQU Catalunya and how it is managed.
AQU Catalunya obtained ISO 9002:1994 certification on 5 June 2000. It was the first European agency of its type to achieve this distinction. On 22 May 2006 AQU Catalunya was again the first QA agency to obtain ISO 9001:2000 certification (quality management systems) for its management of university quality assurance processes, in particular institutional review and university academic staff assessment. This certification was renewed in May 2009 with the new edition (2008) of ISO 9001.
The AQU Catalunya Code of Ethics
The principles laid down in the Code of Ethics guide the conduct of people who either work or act on behalf of AQU Catalunya. In addition to the values, the Code defines the principles and rules governing the Agency's members, the relationships between the organisation and its environment and the rules for interpersonal conduct.
The values set out in the Code of Ethics form part of the hallmark of AQU Catalunya and complement the quality system by providing guidelines for conduct and the approach to activities that are being developed.