Agència per a la Qualitat del Sistema Universitari de Catalunya

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The main lines of action of AQU Catalunya are the review and evaluation of university study programmes, faculties, activities and systems, teaching and academic staff assessment and cooperation and collaboration with other quality assurance agencies responsible for review and evaluation, accreditation and certification in Spain and abroad.

There have been different stages in the review work of AQU Catalunya, according to the nature and purpose of the evaluations:

Enhancement-led review

During the first few years that the Agency was running, the model adopted was that of the institutional review of programmes and qualifications, faculties and services, which combined internal and external approaches to evaluation in just one process. Enhancement-led review has two main objectives: as a useful tool to assist programmes and institutions in managing and improving the quality of university education (by helping to develop an improvement plan), and providing information that is valid, public and objective on the quality of the service being provided by the universities to society.

The first institutional review project at AQU Catalunya was the PRO-QU programme, which was a programme review of first and second cycle pre-Bologna university courses. The programme, which was active from the time when the Agency began until 2006, ultimately shaped the methodological basis for a comprehensive review of university studies. The emphasis in the PRO-QU evaluation model was on key elements such as establishing criteria, the use of indicators and setting reference values (quality standards). PRO-QU evaluations were made possible by the voluntary participation of the universities, although the process was made easier by AQU Catalunya through transversal evaluation in all universities where a programme was being taught.

Following on from the methodology developed within the framework of the PRO-QU project, other evaluation projects have been carried out, including the review of distance learning (virtual) programmes, the transversal review of university library services, the evaluation of the Third Research Plan for Catalonia and the review of higher education institutions affiliated to Catalan universities.

Accreditation of recognised degrees

The first structural reform of the higher education system in Catalonia and its adaptation in line with the EHEA overarching framework for qualifications was the appearance of recognised postgraduate programmes (or POP), which were introduced in Catalonia in the 2006-2007 academic year. Between 2005 and 2007, AQU Catalunya was assigned by the Directorate General for Universities (DGU) to carry out the ex-ante assessment of the academic dimension of proposals for new recognised postgraduate studies. The objective of this was to assure the quality of Masters programmes prior to their introduction.

Prior to the introduction of recognised postgraduate programmes (POP), AQU Catalunya had already participated in the Pilot plan to bring degrees in line with the EHEA guidelines, a programme of the DGU in which the Agency carried out the follow up of the participating Bachelor and Masters degrees.

These programmes heralded in a new stage in the Agency's review work, which by then was conditioned by the new regulatory framework stemming from the establishment of the EHEA. This framework, regulated by Royal Decree 1393/2007, in accordance with the provisions of article 37 Organic Law 4/2007 concerning the universities in Spain, established the structure, ex-ante assessment and accreditation of all recognised university studies in Spain. The ex-ante assessment of new EHEA-adapted degrees was carried out by ANECA (the Spanish National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation), and AQU Catalunya carried out the follow up of these degrees and the subsequent accreditation.

In keeping with the commitment to transparency that is required of higher education institutions within the framework of the EHEA and according to the procedure for the development and implementation of university degrees laid down in Royal Decree 1393/2007, the universities must have internal quality assurance policies and systems that are formally established and publicly accessible. AQU Catalunya, ANECA and ACSUG jointly implemented the AUDIT programme, the aim of which was to guide the design of internal quality assurance systems for university study programmes at the faculty level, with the integration of all of the activities associated with the quality assurance of degree programmes that had been developed up until that time.

Implementation of the VSMA Framework

At the present time, AQU Catalunya is implementing the Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees (VSMA Framework). The Framework links together the four review processes that, from the legal standpoint, are compulsory for recognised degree courses and does so in a logical and conceptually coherent way in order to establish higher levels of efficiency in the management of the different internal and external review and evaluation processes that will need to be implemented.

The VSMA framework provides a structured and integrated overview of the four quality assurance processes that take place throughout the life cycle of a degree course, which are as follows:

Ex-ante accreditation 
Prior to a new degree course being introduced, the curriculum proposal must be referred, via the Spanish Universities Council, for ex-ante assessment by the corresponding quality assurance agency. If the ex-ante assessment of the proposal is favourable, it is then referred to the corresponding regional (Autonomous Community) authorities, that decide whether it is to be authorised or not. If so, the degree is entered in the Ministry of Education's Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees (RUCT), and the degree can be introduced and taught.

The Agency, through special ex-ante assessment panels, issues ex-ante assessment reports for proposals for new degree courses approved by the university. The aim is to ensure that new degrees are formulated in accordance with the over-arching requirements of the EHEA Qualifications Framework, and that there is consistency between the contents and outcomes, bearing in mind the varying approach in different disciplines.

Monitoring /Follow up 
It is laid down in the legislation (Royal Decree) that, once a degree programme has been introduced, the corresponding quality assurance agency must monitor compliance with the curriculum that has been accredited (ex-ante).

The Framework stipulates that it is the university that is primarily responsible for the monitoring of its programmes, and AQU Catalunya shall act as an external agent of quality assurance. Those in charge of each degree must draw up a progress report every year. The progress reports are assessed by monitoring committees from the Agency, in particular those that contain substantial modification proposals and indicators that call for special attention or require an external review site visit.

Under the Framework, proposals for the modification of degrees can only be submitted as a result of the monitoring process, and are understood to be a natural result of this process. Substantial modifications, i.e. those that affect the administrative definition of the degree or its essential academic characteristics, shall lead to the start of a new ex-ante assessment process.

From the time when they are first introduced, recognised degrees must undergo accreditation within six years in the case of Bachelor and doctorate degrees, and four years in the case of Masters degrees. This is to ensure that the curriculum/study plan is being adhered to in accordance with the initial project. In the case where accreditation is renewed, the degree is re-entered in the Ministry of Education's Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees (RUCT).

The Agency annually organises a number of external evaluations in faculties and schools, which are carried out by external review panels that simultaneously evaluate all recognised degrees that are offered there. The objective is to ensure that all university degrees have undergone at least one external evaluation in the period stipulated in the prevailing regulations.

The accreditation of recognised degrees is issued by the corresponding Accreditation Commission and is based on the programme progress reports, the assessment reports drawn up by AQU Catalunya in the monitoring process, and the external evaluation reports. A degree accreditation report may be positive; be positive and include enhancement proposals; contain non-substantial modification proposals; insist on substantial modifications and therefore a repeat ex-ante assessment of the degree, or propose the withdrawal of authorisation.

To find out more

PDF The typical stages of an enhancement-led review