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A brief guide to Quality Assurance

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The UK context and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education

In the UK, each institution of higher education is responsible for ensuring the quality and standards of its provision, that students are achieving appropriate standards and that a good quality education is being offered. All funded higher education institutions are subject to scrutiny, through a process called Higher Education Review, by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which has the responsibility of safeguarding the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications, as well as encouraging continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education.

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education has three main sections, on academic standards, academic quality and information about higher education provision. It gives all higher education providers a shared starting point for setting, describing and assuring the academic standards of their higher education awards and programmes and the quality of the learning opportunities they provide. It is important to remember that universities themselves have the primary responsibility for ensuring that appropriate standards are being achieved and that they offer a good quality education. The Quality Code has informed the development of policies and procedures for maintaining academic standards, quality and shaping the student experience at the College, and are a useful source of reference and guidance on good practice in the sector. QAA reviewers use the UK Quality Code as the main reference point for their Higher Education Review work.

The three parts of the Quality Code are a result of consultation in the sector and are subdivided as necessary into Chapters covering specific themes, as follows:

Part A: Setting and maintaining academic standards

Part A of the Quality Code comprises three Chapters and explains how academic standards are set and maintained for higher education qualifications in the UK:

Part B: Assuring and enhancing academic quality

Academic quality is concerned with how well the learning opportunities made available to students enable them to achieve their award. The Quality Code sets out Expectations which higher education providers are required to meet to ensure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning resources are provided for students; that the learning opportunities provided are monitored; and that the provider considers how to improve them. Part B of the Code comprises eleven Chapters as follows:

Part C: Information about higher education provision

relates to public understanding of, and confidence in higher education so sets out ‘an Expectation that higher education providers make available valid, reliable useful and accessible information about their provision’.

Other external reference points

Other external reference points include:

Review by the Quality Assurance Agency

A key part of QAA's role is to review and report on how providers of higher education, such as universities and colleges, maintain their academic standards and quality. ‌All HEIs are subject to regular audits by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and reports for each institution are published on the QAA website. The previous review methods of Institutional Audit and Institutional Review were replaced with Higher Education Review from the 2013-14 academic year.

The overall aim of Higher Education Review is to inform students and the wider public whether a provider meets the expectations of the higher education sector for:

  • the setting and/or maintenance of academic standards
  • the provision of learning opportunities
  • the provision of information
  • the enhancement of the quality of students' learning opportunities

Higher Education Review is a flexible, risk-based method which applies the greatest scrutiny where it is most needed. Providers with a strong track record in managing quality and standards are reviewed less frequently and less intensively than providers without such a strong record. It is carried out by peer reviewers - staff and students from other providers - and culminates in the publication of a report containing judgements and other findings. 

Students are at the heart of Higher Education Review: they are full members of QAA's peer review teams, and there are also opportunities for students to take part in the review by contributing a student submission, meeting the review team, and working with their providers in response to review outcomes.

Goldsmiths was last audited by a team from the Quality Assurance Agency in June 2015, who judged that our academic standards, the quality and enhancement of student learning opportunities, and the quality of information about these learning opportunities all meet UK expectations. This successful review means that Goldsmiths can display the QAA Quality Mark, indicating to UK and international students that it meets national requirements for standards and quality. A copy of the report is available on the QAA website.

Our Action Plan, addressing the features of good practice, the affirmations and the recommendations, has been developed in partnership with our Students’ Union and will continue to be monitored and updated until all actions are complete.

Download our latest Action Plan [PDF download], approved by Academic Board in September 2017.

The European dimension

In 1999, the Bologna Declaration was signed by member countries of the European Union to work towards a European Higher Education Area by 2010. This aimed to establish a framework for greater transparency and comparability of higher education qualifications across Europe, to enable greater mobility of students, staff and employees. The three priorities of the Bologna process are the introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate), quality assurance and recognition of qualifications and periods of study. The most important development in quality assurance has been the adoption of the European Standards and Guidelines as a pan-European model. Both this and the European Quality Framework have many similar features and are generally compatible with UK models, though there are still some differences of approach with regard to credit recognition.