Quality control blueprint tops ministers' agenda

May 20, 2005

Universities' control over quality assurance in the projected European Higher Education Area tops the agenda for higher education ministers who will this week set the path for the final stage of convergence under the Bologna Process.

Forty countries will meet in Bergen, Norway to assess progress since ministers' last conference in Berlin in 2003 and to discuss implementation of the EHEA by 2010.

A blueprint for a quality assurance regime, including a plan for a European Register of Quality Assurance Agencies, will be adopted, as will a Europe-wide qualifications framework.

While the proposed quality regime recognises the principle of national autonomy, it will set standards for internal and external quality assurance, and for external quality assurance agencies, which will be subject to review on a five-year cycle.

A committee will act as a gatekeeper for the inclusion of agencies on the register and a consultative forum will facilitate the exchange of views between national agencies, universities, students and representatives of the labour market.

The continued move away from the idea of a single quality-assurance body was welcomed by British universities.

A joint pre-Bergen statement issued by Universities UK, the three funding councils, the Standing Conference of Principals and the Quality Assurance Agency said: "Decision-making in the Bologna Process must remain the preserve of the higher education ministers in consultation with higher education stakeholders in the EHEA.

"Decision-making must not be subsumed into European Union fora, because the latter would exclude some participants."

However, the European Commission is committed to a limited Europe-wide quality label scheme for subjects such as engineering and chemistry, with some others to follow.

The UK statement reiterates the principle of institutional autonomy in quality assurance, but it is cautious about the proposed European register, arguing that it should not develop into a quasi-regulatory body or create or develop into a ranking system.

Developments in quality assurance in Europe should continue to be led by institutions and key stakeholders in higher education in close dialogue with national authorities responsible for vocational and professional qualifications and with employers and the workforce," it adds.

The ESIB-National Unions of Students in Europe said: "Although we see progress in the implementation of systems of quality assurance in some Bologna participating countries, we are dissatisfied with the insufficient involvement of students."

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