Quality Assurance in the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

Quality assurance in higher education provides a common reference point for universities and colleges to compare the various degrees and qualifications they award. In the United Kingdom, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is an independent body that, in conjunction with higher education Institutions, describes academic standards and qualification levels.

Due to the devolved educational system, there are a variety of quality assurance mechanisms in place in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. But ultimately, British universities and other higher education institutions determine their own qualifications and quality standards. "A simple and often overlooked point is that the United Kingdom is different from most of the rest of Europe in that degrees are awarded by universities. They decide on what courses they will offer and what standards they will expect for their awards. There is no formal state interference or accreditation," says Nick Harris, director of the development and enhancement group at QAA.

There are two main frameworks for higher education in the United Kingdom: Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (FHEQ-S) and the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (FHEQEWNI). The main differences between the two frameworks, both of which were adopted in 2001, are related to the different education systems.

The bachelor's degree is four years in Scotland but only three years in the rest of the United Kingdom. This reflects the fact that students complete secondary school at age 17 in Scotland and at 18 elsewhere. "The point of equivalence between the two systems is at the standard of the bachelor's degree-these have the same minimum standard across the UK," says Harris, who also adds that the frameworks are the same at the master's and doctoral levels.

Britain has been one of the major players in the development of quality assurance mechanisms in the European Union, such as the Bologna Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area and the recent European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning. "The UK has one of the longest track records in explicit and externally-influenced quality assurance. Higher education quality assurance in the UK is widely regarded around the world as among the most comprehensive, thorough and best," says Harris.

"The other area where the UK is perhaps ahead of the game is an understanding and implementation of learning outcomes. We are concerned about the standards of UK higher education awards-wherever they are delivered in the world."

SCOTLAND

The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in Scotland describes the types of qualifications awarded at the undergraduate (the first Bologna cycle) and postgraduate levels (the second and third Bologna cycles). …