Framework for the positioning of AQU Catalunya regarding subject-specific quality labels
Following evaluation strategies employed for university study programmes in the United States, there is a trend towards opening up quality assurance in Europe in a similar way for it to be of continental scope. Such an option is developed through so-called quality labels, which fundamentally and solely preconfigure two aspects in any given university degree course:
There has recently been an increase in the number of quality labels and, to some extent, there are those in each disciplinary sector who attempt to organise this, for different purposes. In certain fields, quality labels are also used to apply to the quality of education institutions.
The context of quality labels
Higher education is a public good that has always had components of the nature of a private good. With the growing internationalisation of society, the mobility of professionals increases. This may mean that the investment made by society in an individual who is educated at university does not always revert back to the same society that made the investment.
Although there are numerous ways that university education is funded, the norm in Europe is for it to be a mix of both public and private, with variations according to each country.
Both of these issues have an influence on the way in which the definition of the concept of quality is applied. Moreover, the interests of the different stakeholders, both national and international, do not always coincide in this regard. At all events, globalisation in the higher education sector is connected with a willingness of demonstrate quality at international level, either by competing or cooperating with other universities.
The establishment of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) aims at placing Europe at the head of higher education in the world. The EHEA is built on the basis of ministerial agreements that lay down recommendations. Each European state however continues to have full competence over university affairs, although the EHEA does presuppose the incorporation of dynamics of an international nature in national regulations.
As a matter of fact, in countries where university funding is important, the government is less likely to hand over the power of quality assurance to external bodies.
The government is seen to represent national stakeholders, in particular the population as a whole, which, through taxation, make the funding of state-run or national universities possible. In this case, national accreditation takes place in a scenario where priority is given to quality assurance, along with the principles of equity and equal opportunity. The fact remains, however, that the universities are free to apply for additional certifications of international recognition.
When education is funded mainly from private sources, new dynamics emerge, such as the search for exclusivity (positioning in a market) and corporatization, which are logical dynamics in globalised contexts of free competition and where individuals strive to stand out.
The position of AQU Catalunya on quality labels
Learning outcomes have become a priority in quality assurance in the EHEA. These outcomes are set by the universities, according to three ways that are non-exclusive:
AQU Catalunya believes that the first of these should be defended wherever possible; hence it is a priority at AQU Catalunya to maintain and develop the Catalan model for quality assurance and for this to be positioned as an international model of reference, given that the other two ways are complementary in nature.
This means enhancing the value of quality assurance (reviews and evaluations) by AQU Catalunya, bearing in mind that the Agency has been reviewed at international level in accordance with the ESG. Moreover, as an agency listed with EQAR, AQU Catalunya can operate in other European countries and, in certain cases, accredit degree courses.
Given that the stakeholders also pay attention to international benchmarks, AQU Catalunya is to promote ways for mutual recognition with other agencies. Its presence in the ECA facilitates the mutual recognition of joint programmes.
In view of the above, and in reference to the third way (labels), AQU Catalunya agrees to:
On the basis of these objectives, AQU Catalunya will arbitrate two processes: