New quality assessment system digested

HEFCE has today published its new model and framework for quality assessment in the UK. We are unpicking every element systematically – you can find all our analysis and commentary at the quality tag. But first we ask: what does the revised model for quality assessment look like?

The proposals introduce a two-track assurance process for new and established providers which will apply as of 2017/18, with piloting to take place in 2016/17. The framework will apply to England and Northern Ireland, with the high-level proposals to be taken forward in Wales subject to further consultation.

As a first step, a Standing Committee will be formed made up of representatives from across the sector including student, employer and PSRB representatives, to agree the baseline criteria for entry into the system. At the heart of this will be a greater focus on student outcomes, and continuous academic improvement. HEFCE suggest that criteria will include elements of the quality code; framework for qualifications in the region; financial sustainability, management and governance requirements; the CMA’s guidance on student protection; student protection measures including the OIA’s framework and HEFCE’s guidance on course changes; and the institutions own strategy.

Below is our first version of a diagram to help explain the system, we may update this further in due course as more detail comes to light.

wonkhe-quality-asessment-model-3

1. Initial assessment

The initial assessment will depend on the provider’s track-record.

Gateway period (for new providers)
At this point new providers who are seeking HEFCE funding, will be assessed against the baseline criteria. This will include a visit by academic peers and student reviewers, the design and operation of which will be contracted out to a  third-party organisation.

Following assessment, providers will receive one of three judgements, which will be published: satisfactory, satisfactory with conditions, or fail. Where a satisfactory rating is received the provider will enter the ‘development phase’ which, in addition to points 2 and 3 below will involve undertaking developmental activities identified as part of the gateway assessment.

Verification (for established providers)
Established providers will undergo a one-off  verification process to check the methodology of their review process to ensure that they are sufficiently focused on improving student outcomes and have sufficient external scrutiny built into it.  HEFCE will put the design and operation of the verification process out to tender although the document suggests that this will be desk-based. Verification will take place during 2016/17 and 2017/18.

2. Annual provider review

The annual provider review process will involve the collection of data by the relevant funding body, the quality elements of which will be assessed by a panel to consider extent to which the provider meets the relevant funding body’s quality assessment requirements. The panel will include qualified peer and student reviewers and, in England, will be undertaken by HEFCE’s Quality, Accountability and Regulation Strategic Advisory Committee. The information assessed will include information from:

  • The provider’s annual accountability return from its governing body: which will include the existing financial information that is required by HEFCE as well as quality assessment related data
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  • Intelligence gathering: which will include information from students and PRSBs. HEFCE will work with NUS and others to establish the best means of doing this.
  • Analysis of data patterns and trends: to include recruitment patterns, progression and completion rates, degree outcomes, employment data, NSS data and TEF outcomes

The panel will come to a judgement, on a 5-point scale, as to the extent to which the provider is meeting requirements and the findings will be communicated in a letter to the institution and governing body.  Where providers are broadly meeting requirements they will continue to undergo annual review. Institutions receiving any other rating (pending, not meeting annual review requirements or not meeting baseline requirements) will be referred for further investigation and intervention or, where failing to meet baseline requirements, will be removed from the Register of Providers.

3. Assessment visits

Providers, whether new or established, will be subject to at least one visit within a five-year period – although potentially sooner than this if concerns are identified through the annual provider review.

In relation to new providers, a visit will take place at the end of the first four years to retest aspects of the baseline requirements to see whether it is ready to leave the developmental phase. The provider will receive a rating on a four-point scale. Those that are not deemed satisfactory will either remain in the developmental phase or will be removed from the Register of Providers. The design and operation of the visit will be contracted out to a third-party.

Established providers will receive a HEFCE assessment review (HAR) visit at least every five years to check to check the evidence and processes used by the governing body to reach its annual statement. The existing process will be adapted to ensure appropriate governing bodies. Providers will receive a rating on the same 5-point scale adopted as part of the annual review process. Where issues are identified the provider will be referred for further investigation of intervention or, where serious issues are identified, will be removed from the Register.

Other elements of the new framework:

Concerns scheme
The QAA’s Concerns scheme will be replaced with a new process whereby stakeholders (including students, PRSBs, external examiners and others) can report concerns direct to the funding body. As part of the first stage, the funding body will consider the issues itself. If necessary, they will undertake a second-stage investigation of the issue which could result in an external review of the provider. Outcomes of this process will be published.

Capacity building for governing bodies
The funding bodies will contract a third-party organisation to evaluate any gaps in the capabilities of a range of governing bodies to ensure that governors are equipped to take on the new requirements on them under the proposals.

External examining arrangements
HEFCE propose to strengthen the external examining system, to support the protection and comparability of standards, through developing training programmes for examiners. The proposals state that they will work with the sector representatives to explore different approaches to training and calibration of standards.

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