The role of quality assurance

27. July 2020

Interview with Solange Pisarz, Head of project, Hcéres Europe and International Department, and ECA Vice-Chair

Paris, 27 July, 2020. European Universities are entering a European Higher Education Area that is driven by the Bologna Process and the European Standards and Guidelines, in which quality assurance agencies play a central role. This is why, almost from the outset, these alliances have faced the question of their evaluation and accreditation.

With coexisting national systems that differ greatly from one country to another, each alliance faces dilemmas:

  • Is the individual evaluation of each alliance member sufficient, or should their groupings also be evaluated?
  • What about accreditation? Can a European University be accredited? By which organisation? And what consequences will this have?
  • Should the external quality assurance system be specific to alliances or will the superimposition of national systems suffice?

Member States, the European Commission and quality assurance agencies have started to discuss these issues. The most frequently encountered questions are presented here.

Should the strategic projects of alliances and their governance be evaluated?

Strategic projects and governance are essential aspects of the institutional evaluation of institutions, and are two key fields of national evaluation standards.
As the European University concept should contribute to the construction of a European Higher Education Area, ambitious objectives have been set for alliances:

The alliances will therefore have to demonstrate how they define this long-term strategy and embrace Europe’s problems. The evaluation methodology must also be adapted to these new issues.
At the governance level, a race to establish strategic alliances has taken place in Europe, mobilising nearly 300 institutions across Europe. For the first phase, 17 of the 54 projects submitted were finally selected,  involving 114 institutions from 24 countries and 16 French institutions. For the second call for projects, 24 new alliances out of the 62 applications submitted were added to the 17 already selected, and 14 of them involve French institutions.
Some of these projects are partly based on pre-existing partnerships, and the structuring of other alliances has yet to be defined. The internal quality assurance mechanisms of these alliances will be crucial: challenges such as the creation of new forms of partnerships, the choice of the most suitable structure, and the reconciliation of very different legal and cultural contexts will all need to be addressed without delay. The governance of these structures will be based on striking a balance between each member’s autonomy and strategy, on the one hand, and managing cooperation within the alliance, on the other. Governance must therefore be evaluated vis-à-vis these criteria.

A word from Karl Dittrich
President of EQAR (European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education)

Read here

Témoignage de Gilles Subra et Alexandre Vernhet
Gilles Subra, professeur à la faculté de pharmacie, Université de Montpellier et chargé de mission CHARM-EU ; Alexandre Vernhet, vice-président délégué aux contrôles interne et de gestion, Université de Montpellier

Read here

How can the sustainability of the selected alliances be ensured?

The 41 projects selected have been allocated a total budget of €287 million, financed by the Erasmus+ programme (€5 million each), and by the Horizon 2020 project (up to €2 million each). This European allocation has been supplemented by certain countries whose national institutions are members of these alliances, notably in Germany and France.
European quality assurance standards require higher education institutions to have sufficient resources to cover their operating needs and provide a successful student experience. The principle of sustainability is also underlined for the alliances. In addition to these initial allocations, they must have recourse to additional funding: public or private, national or European, recurrent or one-off… With ambitious objectives and novel structures, the funding model will also need to be innovative.

How should study programme design be evaluated?

The objectives announced by European Universities include offering “student-centred study programmes jointly delivered on inter-university campuses, in which different student associations can develop their own programmes and experiment with mobility at all levels of study.

The design of study programmes is therefore a process that is central to the creation of European Universities. The awarding of dual or joint degrees, exchanges of teachers and students, micro-courses, digitalisation, and e-learning are approaches that can be explored by alliances. By acting as laboratories for new methods, they can experiment with innovative and novel learning solutions with their students. Approaches to research and the complementarity of research and study programmes also differ widely according to the alliances and countries concerned. National higher education policies can be combined with European mobility and funding policies, which will reflect their complementarity but also underline their disparities and limitations.

Indeed, the study programmes provided must be attractive, while meeting national and European quality requirements. While institutions are striving to organise an internal quality assurance policy to meet national requirements for the creation of study programmes, external quality assurance is also being put in place. European QA agencies are already involved, either by providing direct assistance to alliances (consulting), via European projects, or by cooperating on the joint evaluation of these study programmes, notably in the framework of the European Approach.

The recognition of the degrees awarded and their compatibility with national standards is also be ensured. Once again, institutions, ministries, ENIC-NARIC centres  and quality assurance agencies will have to be resourceful, flexible and inventive in delivering and guaranteeing these study programmes and degrees.

How does Hcéres intervene within the scope of European Universities?

The Europe and International Department (DEI) team at Hcéres is bringing its expertise to bear on these issues.

Hcéres is involved in European networks already working on these issues:

Hcéres is a partner in the European EUniQ project

EUniQ is a European project with a budget of €195,000 allocated over two years, which aims to develop a European approach to external quality assurance for European Universities. Seventeen partners, including Hcéres, are contributing to this project with a view to developing quality assurance solutions. They are currently finalising an evaluation standard for these alliances, which will soon be tested by four of them.

Hcéres is providing support for alliances

The DEI team has a comprehensive understanding of the prerequisites for the creation and functioning of European Universities, and is ideally placed to offer its expertise to institutions that request it: provision of support during meetings with European partners, reflection on internal and external QA processes, participation in procedures conducted by other European agencies, etc.

Hcéres is engaged in closer dialogue between European quality assurance agencies, but also between European networks and higher education stakeholders, with the aim of constantly renewing and improving the dialogue with institutions.


Source: Hcéres press release