The Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degrees is a document concerted with the Catalan universities through their heads (vice-rectors) of degree quality and members of the QA technical units.
This document sets out a proposal for a new improved VSMA Framework that is compatible with the prevailing regulatory framework that covers the quality assurance of university degree courses and awards, in particular the new revised version of the ESG. It was approved by the AQU Governing Board during the session on 18 July 2016.
The VSMA Framework links together the processes involving the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of the quality of recognised degrees in Catalonia, the objective being to:
- Ensure the continuous review of the running of degree courses.
- Promote the culture of quality and accountability.
- Give support to those in charge in the university of building a strategic vision for its degree courses.
- Reinforce the university's transparency, leadership and recognition by society.
The VSMA Framework gives a structured and comprehensive overview of the four QA processes that take place throughout the life cycle of a degree course, which are as follows:
Before a new degree can be introduced, a curriculum proposal must be submitted, through the Universities Council, for ex-ante assessment by the corresponding QA agency. If the ex-ante assessment of the curriculum proposal is favourable, it is referred to the Autonomous regional authorities, which decide whether to authorise it or not. If authorisation is given, the degree is entered in the Ministry of Education's Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees (RUCT) and may then be taught.
It is the Agency, through review panels, that will issue the reports for the ex-ante assessment of proposals for new degree courses approved by the university. The objective is to ensure that new degrees are formulated in accordance with the requirements of the EHEA, together with the qualifications framework, and that there is coherency between the content and learning objectives, according to the approach in each discipline.
Once the degree is running, the prevailing legislation lays down that compliance with a curriculum that has undergone ex-ante assessment must be monitored by the corresponding QA agency.
The endorsed Framework stipulates that it is the university that is primarily responsible for the process of monitoring its programmes and awards, and the role of AQU Catalunya is that of an external quality assurance provider. The academic coordinators of each degree must annually draw up a progress report. The Agency, through review committees, shall evaluate the programme progress reports, especially those that either contain proposals for substantial modifications and/or indicators that call for special attention, and also where an external review site visit is necessary.
The Framework establishes that proposals for the modification of degrees shall only result from the process of monitoring, and that they are understood to be a natural outcome of this process. Any substantial modification, i.e. concerning either the administrative definition of the degree or its essential academic characteristics, shall lead to the start of a new ex-ante assessment process.
Within a maximum of six years of a new bachelor or doctorate degree having been introduced, and within four years in the case of a master’s degree, all recognised degrees shall be subject to an accreditation process, which will verify that the curriculum is being complied with in accordance with the initial project. In the case of accreditation renewal, it will be re-entered in the Ministry of Education’s Register of Universities, Faculties and Degrees.
The Agency will annually organise a number of external reviews in faculties and schools by review panels that will simultaneously review all of the recognised degree courses that are offered there. The objective is to ensure that all university degrees are externally reviewed at least once within the legally stipulated period.
Formal accreditation of recognised degrees shall be issued by the corresponding Accreditation Panel and will be based on the programme progress reports, the evaluation reports produced by AQU Catalunya during the monitoring process and the external review reports. An accreditation report on a study programme will be either favourable or unfavourable. A favourable report will be favourable according to one of three levels: accreditation on track to excellence, in the case of degree courses where numerous good practices are evident; accreditation; and accreditation with prescriptions/conditions, for degree courses where there are shortcomings in delivery that will need to be resolved within two years. An unfavourable report means that authorisation for the course to continue running will be withdrawn.