Key considerations for cross-border QA

ENQAESUEUA, EURASHE and EQAR set up an ad-hoc working group to develop considerations that would guide stakeholders engaging in cross-border QA.

The results of the group’s work, drawing on prior experience in the topic and consultations with various stakeholders is captured within the ‘Key Considerations for Cross-Border Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area’.

The document aims to provide information and support considering cross-border QA activities  for higher education institutions planning to engage in cross-border QA and quality assurance agencies when initiating new procedures across borders. The document may also be a useful reference for governments to review and adapt their legal frameworks to allow for the use of cross-border QA with a suitable EQAR-registered agency for fulfilling requirements of national mandatory QA.

Key Considerations for Cross-Border Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (PDF)

Questions and answers on cross-border QA

The document follows a question and answer model to address different aspects of cross border QA. See the three main parts of the document, including the responses to each question presented under each heading below:

A. Engaging in cross-border QA

What is the rationale for engaging in cross-border QA?

An institution planning to engage in cross-border QA should thoroughly consider the aims of the process and the expected added-value. It should consider whether it will be part of the national mandatory QA or be in addition to an external QA procedure required in the national legal framework, and how this choice fits in its long-term QA strategy. An agency should similarly consider and reflect on the aims and reasons for engaging in such exercises and whether they fit with its scope of activities.

Which QA agency is fit for purpose for this specific case?

The chosen agency should be EQAR-registered to ensure that it operates in accordance with the ESG. The institution should look carefully at the philosophy and procedures of the chosen QA agency to ensure that they are appropriate for the institutional context, that they are compatible with the aims and expected benefits of the process and that, if necessary, they meet any national legal requirements. The agency should consider whether it is in a position to carry out the external QA requested by the higher education institution.

What is the legal framework prescribing?

The cross-border QA activity may be contingent on the national higher education framework and other specific national regulation. In case cross-border QA is part of the national mandatory QA, the institution and QA agency should consult and involve as appropriate national regulatory bodies (such as ministries or accreditation councils). It is important that information about legal frameworks and national criteria is readily available and that both the institution and the QA agency inform themselves to ensure a proper understanding of the legal context.

What other aspects (beyond the legal framework) need to be considered beforehand?

While acknowledging the benefits that can result from crossborder QA, the institution should also consider aspects such as resources, public procurements procedures, language matters, as well as additional workload before committing to crossborder QA. Furthermore, the outcomes of cross-border QA may have an impact on the recognition of the institution’s qualifications nationally and internationally. Similarly, the QA agency would benefit from assessing its expertise, capacity and resources to conduct cross-border QA while maintaining its professional standards and integrity.

Has the institution communicated its decision to undergo cross-border QA to relevant stakeholders?

The institution should properly communicate its decision to undergo cross-border QA and the reasons behind choosing a foreign agency to the institutional community, including students. The purpose and goals of the cross-border QA procedure should be clear for all involved. The full awareness and commitment of institutional stakeholders will support a meaningful cross-border QA process.

B. Carrying out cross-border QA

Will the agency need to modify its procedures because of the cross-border setting?

When preparing to engage in cross-border QA, the agency should consider whether its procedures remain the same in a cross-border context. While the ESG provide a framework for all QA activities in the EHEA, they may be implemented in different ways in different contexts. Specific adaptations might be required based on the legal framework and the education system’s traditions and structure. Any alterations to the agency’s procedures should remain in line with the ESG and be made publicly available. If a joint programme is being reviewed, the agency and institution should consider using the European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes.

What sort of preparations support successful crossborder QA?

A preliminary meeting between the agency and the institution can help ensure a shared understanding of the national and institutional context and the forthcoming QA process. The preparation would normally also include a formal agreement outlining i.a. the aims of the procedure and responsibilities of all parties. Conducting due diligence and gathering further background information supports successful cross-border QA. This may include the agency contacting the local QA agency, and informing itself of previous external QA reports and decisions concerning the institution.

How are the peer-review experts selected and trained?

The QA agency should ensure the transparent and appropriate selection and training of the peer-review experts. Specific training and briefing is particularly important if they are working in an unfamiliar context. The institution may also brief the peer-review experts on relevant contextual issues. The institution, the QA agency and the peer-review experts should be sensitive to cultural and contextual differences.

Are the practical specificities of carrying out crossborder QA clear for both parties?

The practicalities of cross-border QA set out in the formal agreement between both parties may include aspects such as language considerations and specificities of the site visit(s). The QA agency should clarify any language requirements in conducting cross-border QA. This has implications for the composition of the team of peer-review experts. The institution should consider the time and resources required to provide, if necessary, translations of relevant documents and interpretation during the site visit(s). Both the QA agency and the institution should clarify in advance the arrangements for the site visit(s). Communication between the agency/team of peer-review experts and the institution should address various issues, which may include, in addition to language aspects, the length of the site visit(s), time allocated for interviews, the selection of interviewees and matters of reporting

C. Addressing the results of cross-border QA

If applicable, what is the formal recognition process of a cross-border QA decision?

The QA agency and institution should take into account any additional steps necessary for the formal recognition by the relevant national bodies of any decision following the completion of a cross-border QA procedure that is part of national mandatory QA. This may not be necessary or relevant to the same extent for voluntary cross-border QA. While the style of reporting varies from one QA agency to another, any national requirements or criteria should be addressed in the structuring and contents of the report to ensure its recognition if the process is part of the national mandatory QA. The agency should ensure the publication of and access to the full report.

What are the complaints, appeals and follow-up processes?

The QA agency should consider cross-border specificities in its complaints and appeals processes, based on the ESG. In case of substantiated unaddressed concerns about an agency’s compliance with the ESG, EQAR’s Complaints Policy should be referred to. Both the QA agency and the institution should be aware of their respective responsibilities to ensure a proper follow-up to the external QA process. If the process is part of the national mandatory QA, the institution should consider whether there is any discrepancy or incompatibility between the agency’s follow-up procedure and national requirements (e.g. timeframes for subsequent procedures).