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Quality assurance: the challenge of staying relevant

Will quality assurance as we know it remain relevant amid the changing higher education landscape? What changes are needed? EUA’s Tia Loukkola gives an overview of the diverse questions to be addressed at the European Quality Assurance Forum.

Hundreds of quality assurance professionals from European higher education institutions are making their way to the annual European Quality Assurance Forum (EQAF) this week to meet with representatives from quality assurance agencies, as well as students and other stakeholders, to discuss the latest trends in the field and exchange experiences.

Building on last year’s discussions about widening the scope of quality assurance, the starting point for this year’s EQAF, hosted by the Technical University of Berlin, is the increasingly complex demands towards higher education institutions to rapidly respond to changes in society by engaging internal and external stakeholders in their work. The EQAF participants are invited to reflect on how quality assurance processes can support institutions in developing activities that meet the expectations and needs of all stakeholders and demonstrate their value to society.

After a year full of action, in particular by the younger generations around Europe  who are concerned for the future of our planet in light of climate change, it should not be surprising that the role of higher education in promoting sustainable development will be a topic in several sessions. Representatives from higher education institutions and quality assurance agencies, as well as students, will provide their perspectives on this topic and reflect on how quality assurance processes can respond.

Along the same lines, the social dimension of higher education is currently high on the agenda of the Bologna Process and many higher education systems. This is also reflected in the Forum programme in sessions on the role of quality assurance in promoting inclusion in higher education, including gender equality.

In response to the organisers’ call for contributions, some breakout sessions focus on quality assurance of higher education’s third mission - specifically, community engagement and collaboration between institutions and the wider society. Whereas two sessions provide information on the status in Ireland and Portugal, another session discusses the feasibility of a European-level framework for this area. Another workshop invites participants to seek ways to encourage stakeholder participation in societal engagement.

Indeed, stakeholders’ different perspectives and expectations feature strongly in the programme. While the plenary, launching a full day of work on Friday, gathers student and staff representatives together with Croatian Minister for Higher Education Blaženka Divjak, further breakout sessions focus on the expectations of individual stakeholder groups towards quality and their role in quality assurance. In addition, employers’ views will be added to the mix.

The programme includes many more topics ranging from quality assurance of student-centred learning to that of work-based learning. It demonstrates that despite commonalities, the quality assurance landscape in Europe continues to be on the move and remains diverse. For quality assurance to be able to deal with the different, and sometimes even contradicting,  expectations, the competences and skills of the experts involved in quality assurance processes will be essential. Therefore, a session on what kind of competences are needed from student experts and another on a case study on expert training are definitely relevant.

Will external quality assurance as we know it remain relevant amid the changing higher education landscape? If there is need for external quality assurance to change, what changes are needed? These are questions that will arise from the diverse nature of the Forum sessions. The final plenary on Saturday invites the panellists and audience to provide some tentative answers. But the debate will certainly continue on after the event.

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Tia Loukkola

Tia Loukkola is the Director of the EUA Institutional Development unit. She is in charge of a variety of EUA’s activities dealing with improving and monitoring the quality of universities and their educational mission, as well as specific topics including quality assurance, recognition, rankings and learning and teaching.

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