Quality assurance is one of the areas where European cooperation has advanced in a relatively significant manner over the last decade. Recently, the Commission published a new report on issues related to quality and quality assurance in Europe. The report refers to the 2009 report that put forward three main aims: to make quality assurance (QA) more transparent for users, to link it closer to the wider aims of higher education, and to further develop cross-border cooperation.
The current report sums up the most important developments in quality assurance in Europe since 2009 with various available reports from sources such as EHEA working group, EUA, EACEA, IBAR and ESU. While progress is reported on most areas, it is also highlighted that linking quality assurance to concrete quality improvement processes and strategic work of the institutions remains a challenge. The positive impact of the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) is noted, but it is also highlighted that their implementation has this far been rather uneven, and a revision process of ESG is now in process.
The report highlights that the areas where more action is still necessary are in particular widening access, employability, internationalisation, improvement of doctoral training as well as human resource strategies. The need to shift attention to the content rather than the procedural aspects of quality assurance is highlighted in several parts of the document. Furthermore quality assurance issues are linked to mobility concerns and qualifications frameworks, perhaps a rather unsurprising linkage, considering that both of these topics have been a rather successful themes in European higher education for EU led joint cooperation.
Joint cooperation in quality assurance in Europe has a number of arenas for cooperation that are not directly under any EU structure. For those not familiar with the structure, here is a short overview of some of the key terms: ENQA (the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) was established already in 2000 (originally called European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) in the framework of cooperation in the Bologna Process. ENQA is also responsible for the formulation of ESG – European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance. ESG was first presented at the 2005 Bergen meeting of the Bologna Process. Quality assurance agencies that comply with the ESG are part of the European Quality Assurance Registry EQAR (launched in 2008). Since 2006, the European University Association (EUA) also arranges an annual event together with ENQA, EURASHE and ESU which is called EQAF – the European Quality Assurance Forum that has its aims to bring together stakeholders and facilitate a European discussion on quality assurance.
However, the EU also signals its interest in continued involvement in the quality assurance procedures and cooperation. Five points are highlighted, including focus on the consultation towards the European skills and qualifications area; revision of the ESG; focus on various EU transparency tools (EQF, EQAVET, Europass); EU support to facilitate more member states registering in EQAR; and its continued work to “romote cooperation on QA at international level, through policy dialogue with key international partners and as a basis for partnerships with HEIs around the world“. In addition to this, the report highlights the linkages to existing EU programmes and reform agendas, suggesting that EU cooperation in higher education takes place in various arenas that have varying degree of formal status and EU involvement, but that are increasingly seen as mutually reinforcing.