COVID-19 consequences

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 keep facing the challenge to organise their operations in light of ongoing or repeated pandemic-related restrictions of official travel or physical meetings. Likewise, the activities of many higher education institutions in Europe continue to be 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 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:

How should we handle the ESG requirement to have site visits?

A site visit to the institution/programme under review is normally required in an ESG-compliant external quality assurance process. In a situation where (physical) site visits cannot actually be organised as a result of restrictions, 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.

Can we prolong accreditation/validity periods?

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.

What happens if meetings, trainings or other activities are postponed or moved online?

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.

What happens if our external review for renewal of registration is delayed?

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.

Do we need to make a Substantive Change Report if we adapt our activities?

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 that remain in effect beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, please report them as usual.

Can our agency review be organised with an online site visit?

The rule is that site visits in an agency review take place physically. In particular, it is expected that the review panel meets in person and talks to the key actors (e.g. agency leadership) in person. At the same time, hybrid elements may be used (e.g. the panel may choose to carry out some interviews online).

At the current stage of the pandemic, various restrictions remain in place across Europe, but generally travel remains possible, especially for important and essential meetings. The acceptance of online site visits is therefore now differentiated.

For agencies that are already registered on EQAR (review for renewal of registration):

It is possible to organise the entire site visit online if it can be demonstrated that exceptional circumstances (e.g. national lock-down orders) make a physical site visit clearly not feasible, and 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.

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 until a physical site visit can take place.

For agencies that are newly applying for registration on EQAR (review for initial application):

Online site visits are not accepted for initial applications. If a physical site visit is not feasible the agency needs to postpone the site visit and application until it is.

When an agency is going through its first/initial review, it is not already well-known to the coordinator as is the case for renewal applications. Moreover, the panel needs to start afresh and cannot build on what was reviewed last time and has not changed.

This policy was updated on 14 January 2022. Transitional rule: site visits for initial applications that were scheduled prior to this change and for a date until 30 April 2022 may still be moved online if exceptional circumstances make it necessary.

If you have additional questions, doubts or uncertainties about EQAR registration and ESG compliance, please contact us.