The current novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic impacts the work and daily life of everyone involved in European higher education at the moment. We are ready to support our members, registered quality assurance agencies and partners in the challenges they are currently facing where we can.
Questions about registered agencies' operations
EQAR-registered agencies are currently facing the challenge to continue their operations under “lock-down conditions” and with activities of most higher education institutions in Europe suspended or moved partially online. We wish to encourage registered agencies to respond flexibly to the situation. EQAR wishes to assure agencies that your registration will not be jeopardised resulting from any suspension or adaptation of your activities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We believe that the guiding principle should be to best support higher education institutions to master the extraordinary challenges they are currently facing and to sustain quality of their education provision through these times. ENQA, the European representative association of quality assurance agencies, has highlighted the important role that agencies might play. We wish to draw your attention to a social media campaign launched by ENQA for agencies to share practices and experiences.
In the following, we provide answers to specific questions as to the compliance with the ESG and EQAR registration:
A site visit to the institution/programme under review is normally required in an ESG-compliant external quality assurance process. In the current situation and during the time where site visits cannot actually be organised, it is perfectly acceptable to replace site visits by video conferences or other appropriate formats, to be determined by the agency. Alternatively, site visits could be postponed to a later time if that is possible.
Generally, the ESG do not prescribe the length of accreditation/validity periods. If the agency concluded that the best approach to the current situation is to extend the validity periods of accreditations to expires shortly (e.g. in order to postpone site visits and re-accreditation decisions), this will be considered reasonable and acceptable. If such decisions are taken, please remember to update the affected records in DEQAR in order to avoid any uncertainty.
The ESG contain no provision that require meetings to be physical. Also, if meetings are postponed to be held in physical form later, such a delay would not be held against an agency. While trainings for experts are usually physical meetings, it is perfectly acceptable to replace those by virtual arrangements if needed under current conditions.
Based on the current information, we do not expect that any registered agency is immediately facing a delay in the report on its external review against the ESG. If you do expect a delay in your next renewal of registration, please contact us.
We do not expect a Substantive Change Report for temporary adaptations of your external quality assurance activities that are a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. We, however, recommend that you document any such changes so that they can be explained in a future external review of the agency, if necessary. If you make permanent adaptations beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, please report them as usual.
Please discuss the modalities with the organisation coordinating the review of your agency.
Generally, this is possible as long as there is no detriment in terms of thoroughness and comprehensiveness of the review.
This should, however, not be an automatism or without alternative. We expect that a site visit is only carried out online if that is acceptable to the review panel. To avoid any doubt, the report should state that the panel members explicitly agreed to carry out an online site visit.
We advise coordinators and panels to be more cautious when an agency is going through its first/initial review, as opposed to renewal cases where the agency is already well-known to the coordinator and the panel can presumably build on what was reviewed last time and has not changed.
In more complex or difficult cases, we advise to reorganise or postpone the site visit instead.
If an agency is reviewed for renewal of registration and the panel cannot accept an online site visit, EQAR will maintain the agency’s registration as fully valid beyond the usual deadlines if the site visit is delayed for that reason.
If you have additional questions, doubts or uncertainties about EQAR registration and ESG compliance, please contact us.