A European Register for Quality Assurance Agencies is one proposal set to be agreed by education ministers in Bergen on 19-20 May. The aim is to achieve cross-border recognition of qualifications and skills across the EU.
European education ministers meeting at the upcoming Bergen Summit on 19-20 May are expected to adopt European standards for universities and national quality assurance agencies. They are set to agree on the principle of a European Register for Quality Assurance Agencies and the possibility of national labels applying European standards. Overseeing this would be a committee made up of national quality assurance agencies, universities, students, employers and public authorities.
The move follows a report by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) on standards and guidelines plus a peer review system for national quality assurance agencies. The report has been backed by the Bologna follow-up group.
The standards will provide the minimum level of compatibility in the form of common references which are needed in order to achieve the cross-recognition of qualifications and skills expected by EU citizens and the European labour market.
Also set to be adopted is a European Qualifications Framework focussing on learning outcomes. This is designed to provide commonly understood reference levels on how to describe learning, from basic skills up to the doctorate, with an ECTS-like (European Credit Transfer System) credit range attached to each level. The idea is for students, institutions, parents and employers in the wider Europe to be talking in terms of learning outcomes – what a graduate can actually do, at the end of his or her degree – and skills. The underlying aim is to facilitate mobility and recognition across a wide variety of learning systems, as well as make European degrees more comprehensible for employers.
During the summit, working groups on doctoral studies and the synergy between higher education and research, lifelong learning, quality assurance and recognition in a global perspective and institutional autonomy and governance are planned.
A stocktaking report assessing progress in the Bologna Process will be presented on 19 May followed by speeches by the following consultative members – the European Universities Association, the National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) and the Council of Europe.
Referring to the European Register for Quality Assurance Agencies at a technical briefing on 17 May, DG Education and Culture’s deputy head of unit for school education and higher education, Peter van der Hijden, said:
“The key point is that universities will then be going public on their quality with reports that would normally be submitted by the national quality assurance agencies every five years. In theory around 4,000 institutions across Europe would be eligible for evaluation and possibly a label.”
Typically, national quality assurance agencies inspect universities and other higher education institutes every five years. If institutes were to fail to satisfy the agency, they would then be expected to be asked to carry out the necessary improvements before submitting a new report.
An area of disagreement among member states is whether reports are sufficient in themselves rather than adding the awarding of labels as a form of accreditation.
Those against labels argue that the pressure to do what they are meant to do will lead to institutions producing reports that appear to meet the stipulated criteria on the surface but do not do so in terms of their substance.
Another problem to be wary of is the potential for too much bureaucracy. Van der Hijden: “The danger of professors having to do too much quality assurance paperwork to the detriment of their actual teaching is one that must be closely monitored.”
A report by the Eurydice information network in education in Europe, requested by the Commission, was published on 18 May. Among other things, the report notes that:
- Quality assurance is co-ordinated by an independent national agency in the great majority of countries
- National bodies performing evaluation and/or accreditation do not always have independent status but come directly under the top-level public authorities
- Students are rarely represented in the governance of national bodies for co-ordination of quality assurance
- Students and foreign experts participate in the process of external evaluation in half the countries
- Internal evaluation is compulsory almost everywhere and the opinion of students is sought in one way or another