Criteria and Principles
Criteria for Registration
Quality assurance agencies that wish to be included in the Register need to demonstrate that they operate in substantial compliance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). The standards for quality assurance are divided into three interlinked parts:
- Part 1: Standards and guidelines for internal quality assurance
- Part 2: Standards and guidelines for external quality assurance
- Part 3: Standards and guidelines for quality assurance agencies
Parts 2 and 3 of the ESG are those with direct relevance to quality assurance agencies and thus serve as criteria for inclusion on the Register. While the standards in Part 1 may be addressed differently depending on the type of external quality assurance carried out, the agency is expected to systematically include all standards of Part 1 of the ESG in their criteria and procedures used to evaluate, accredit or audit institutions or programmes (see Use and Interpretation of the ESG, standard 2.1).
The Register Committee’s interpretation of the ESG is explained in the Use and Interpretation of the ESG for the European Register of Quality Assurance Agencies.
Additionally, EQAR regularly prepares analyses into the decisions made by the Register Committee. The analysis considers the compliance level with each of the standards of ESG parts 2 and 3 and discusses in more details the recuring cases where Register Committee was unable to concur with the panel’s conclusion of compliance.
In line with its mission of enhancing trust and confidence in European higher education, EQAR makes transparent its mode of operation and its procedures. In the interest of full transparency, all decisions by the Register Committee on eligible applications are therefore published.
Together with the approval and rejection decisions, the full documentation on applications is published as well. This includes further clarification received from applicant agencies or review panels, additional representation made by agencies, statements as well as any other documents submitted with the application.
In case of approval, the applicant will be admitted to the Register of quality assurance agencies.
For applications that are withdrawn, there is no decision taken and hence no decision can be published. These applications will, however, figure on the list of complete and eligible applications, provided that a review report has been submitted.
Applications that do not meet the eligibility requirements (e.g. due to the nature of its activities) are not considered by the Register Committee at all. Therefore, no decision is taken and there is no outcome to be published.
In addition, Substantive Change Reports by registered agencies and the resulting decisions by the Register Committee are published. Furthermore, decisions resulting following a substantiated complaint by third parties are published (see Third-Party Complaints for details as to which complaints lead to a public decision).
The publication of full decisions was introduced in January 2013. Therefeore, the publication of decision on applications before 2013 is at the agency’s discretion. EQAR has, however, always published the external review report on which the Register Committee’s decision was based, which can be found under each agency’s Register entry also before 2013.
Conflicts of Interest
EQAR attaches high importance to avoiding any conflicts of interest of review panel members, review coordinators and members of its own decision-making bodies. The EQAR Procedures contain clear requirements to that effect, which have been further detailed in the EQAR Code of Conduct.
EQAR officials, (potential) review panel members and anyone else involved in the review of an agency (e.g. as an official of the review coordinator) must recuse themselves from any application for which a real or apparent conflict of interest exists.
A “real conflict of interest” means that an individual has private interests (i.e. personal or organisational interests) which influence their analysis or decisions. An “apparent conflict of interest” means any situation where it could reasonably be perceived that an individual’s personal interests might influence their analysis or decisions. An individual is considered to have a conflict of interest if, for example, s/he:
- holds/held a position, whether paid or unpaid, with the agency (for example as an employee, consultant, subcontractor, member of the board or a committee) during the past 5 years;
- holds a position in an entity currently being reviewed by the agency;
- any of the above applies to an immediate family member.
The list is not exhaustive and there might be other circumstances of a real or apparent conflict of interest as defined above.
It is the applicant’s responsibility to identify a review coordinator that is sufficiently independent and has no conflict of interest. When submitting their application, agencies are required to declare in writing that the review coordinator is sufficiently independent from them.
The review coordinator bears the responsibility to ensure the independence of all review panel members. The coordinator is expected to take appropriate measures to prevent appointing any review panel members with a real or apparent conflict of interest as defined above.
The review coordinator is expected to declare, using the ‘Declaration of Honour’, that appropriate measures were taken to avoid any conflict of interest of the review panel with the applicant and that the coordinator has no conflict of interest itself. The full CVs of all review panel members have to be attached to this declaration (see Declaration of Honour Form).
Members of EQAR’s decision-making bodies will recuse themselves from the decision-making on any application where they have a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Despite the general rule that a conflict of interest should be declared of a person’s own accord, there might be cases where an applicant or person involved in the review considers that another person involved or a member of an EQAR body has a conflict of interest. Should that be the case, the person is encouraged to bring this to the attention of the EQAR Secretariat or the EQAR President.