Brussels, 13 Oct 2005
MEPs approved a legislative report aiming to guarantee the quality of higher education in the EU and encouraging the mutual recognition of national evaluation systems. The issue at stake is extremely important. Knowledge is fundamental to European society. Students from Europe and elsewhere must be certain that the education they receive in the EU is of the highest quality. Parliament approved a package of 18 compromise amendments to the Commission proposal of 30 September 2004 on ensuring the quality of university education. The compromise amendments were brokered by rapporteur Ljudmila NOVAK (EPP-ED, SI) in talks with Council and Commission ("informal trialogue") after her report had been adopted by the Education and Culture committee on 30 August. The deal aims at concluding the co-decision dossier in first reading. Parliament agrees with the Commission proposal that "there is still a need to improve the performance of European higher education", adding that this particularly applies to quality. A Council Recommendation from 1998 called for quality assurance systems to be based on a series of essential features, including evaluation of programmes or institutions through internal assessment, external review and involving the participation of students, publication of results and international participation. More needs be done to make higher education in Europe a more trustworthy brand, not only for European students but also for students from other continents seeking a higher education in Europe. To achieve this goal the Commission is proposing an updated Recommendation to encourage and facilitate the concept of "mutual recognition" in higher education. In addition, the recommendation should act as a tool, which encourages the creation of European quality assurance systems and assessments. The adoption of the regulation would give a strong impulse to the establishment of a coherent European system of quality assurance in higher education and would also enhance quality, facilitate recognition of qualifications and promote student mobility. A common set of general standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, as proposed by the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), was adopted by Ministers of Education from 45 countries during their meeting in Bergen, Norway on 20 May 2005 in the context of the Bologna process. Instead of being required, as the Commission proposed, quality assurance or accreditation agencies should now be encouraged by Member States to be independent in their assessments. For assessment purposes, the agencies should apply common features of quality assurance agreed in Bergen, "in such a way as to protect and promote diversity and innovation". In addition to agencies and universities, representatives of national authorities together with social partners are encouraged to set up a European Register of Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agencies "based on national review". For licensing purposes, the proposal calls on Member States to enable universities to choose an agency from the Register. However, MEPs insist on compatibility with national legislation or permission by national authorities. MEPs also demand to delete a call on Member States to accept the assessments by all registered agencies as a basis for decisions on licensing or funding of higher education institutions, including eligibility for student grants and loans. With a view to boosting their international reputation, Member States should also allow universities to seek a complementary assessment by another agency in the Register. Member States should promote cooperation between agencies in order to build up mutual trust and the recognition of assessments.
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