External review requirements
The next step in the application process is the external review of the applicant. It is important that the external review is sound and reliable, and provides the Register Committee with sufficient information.
Since the external reviews of applicant agencies are organised by third parties and are not under EQAR’s direct supervision, the external review must adhere to some important requirements, which are explained in the following.
The external review report needs to provide sufficient evidence of the applicant’s substantial compliance with the ESG. The Register Committee’s decisions are primarily based on the external review report, the quality and reliability of which are therefore of crucial importance.
The report should clearly address each relevant ESG (standards 2.1 to 2.7 and 3.1 to 3.7) and reflect on the agency’s compliance with it.
It benefits readability and comprehensibility if the report contains for each standard a summary of the evidence reviewed, a weighing analysis of the agencies’ activities in the light of the standard and an argued conclusion demonstrating the agency’s compliance with the standard.
An assessment of the level of compliance with the ESG should be clearly defined as one purpose of the external review.
It is further advisable that explicit reference is made in the Terms of Reference to the fact that the review report will be used for an application for (renewal of) inclusion on EQAR. This will help to avoid misunderstandings during the process.
In some cases a review might have other, additional purposes, such as an independent overall assessment of the applicant’s performance. Such a review with additional purposes might as well be used for an application to EQAR, as long as compliance with the ESG is addressed.
EQAR attaches high importance to the independence of the external review, as it has to rely on the evidence and analysis set out in the review report and the judgements made by the review panel.
The external review needs to be conducted in an objective and unbiased manner. The review coordinator and the review panel need to be completely independent from the applicant. It has to be ensured that neither the review coordinator nor any review panel member has a conflict of interest.
The review coordinator has an important responsibility in that respect and is required to sign a No-Conflict-of-Interest Declaration (see Procedure > Application documents).
The review coordinator is the organisation that conducts the practical organisation of the review process and is sometimes also referred to as “sponsor”. EQAR does not coordinate reviews itself.
The applicant itself or the commissioner of the review (for example a national authority, such as the ministry of higher education) has to identify a suitable review coordinator. A common example is a review coordinated by ENQA.
The review coordinator plays an important role in developing Terms of Reference, recruiting an independent review panel and being responsible for the overall management of the review process. The coordinator also has to provide appropriate guidance to the review panel throughout the whole process.
Therefore it is crucial that the review coordinator is completely independent from the applicant, to guarantee an unbiased and objective process. Furthermore, the coordinator must have the necessary professional capacity to organise an external review, so that it can adequately fulfil all its responsibilities.
The review panel must consist of at least four persons. Those need to be fully independent from the applicant and should possess the knowledge, expertise and experience required to review the applicant’s compliance with the ESG.
The review panel should comprise of members who represent a broad range of expertise and cover the perspectives of the different stakeholders in higher education. The roles of Chair and Secretary are often foreseen amongst the review panel members.
The review panel must include at least:
- one student,
- one academic staff member of a higher education institution,
- one review panel member from a country other than the applicant’s.
In order to safeguard the independence of review, review panel members must have no conflict of interest in exercising their role. The coordinator is responsible for ensuring that in recruiting the panel and throughout the process. The CVs of the panel members have to be submitted to EQAR with the application.
Next step -> Submission of review report