This article is more than 6 years old

Quality assurance, with a Welsh accent

Professor Helen Marshall, Chair of HEFCW’s Quality Assessment Committee, introduces the new Welsh Quality Assurance framework.
This article is more than 6 years old

Helen Marshall is vice chancellor of the University of Salford, a HEFCW Council member and chair of HEFCW’s Quality Assessment Committee.

The new Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) for Wales takes a very different approach to quality to arrangements in the English sector. The new framework includes arrangements for established providers – building on tested approaches to data benchmarking and analysis, intelligence gathering (including from students), risk assessment, and assurance.

Notably, we’ve kept our external quality reviews, which will be carried out every six years. This is because we think it is important to safeguard the high standards of HE in Wales, using comprehensive approach which places an emphasis on both data and qualitative information – especially at a time when arrangements for QA in the UK are increasingly diverging.

The Framework is based on the baseline regulatory requirements in the UK, with additional reference to the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales and Welsh language legislation. It was developed to align with the revised operating model for quality assessment (QA) in England and Northern Ireland, and is designed to be flexible enough to respond to changes to the UK HE quality environment. We’ve developed this approach through a programme of pilot activities as well as a series of consultations and stakeholder events.

What’s new?

In Wales, providers must have a Fee and Access Plan in order for all of their eligible students to have access to financial support. For this to be approved, providers need to meet the quality standards set out in the QAF.

The Framework includes a new gateway quality method for new providers seeking access to student support through a Fee and Access Plan. We are developing this with QAA and it’s due to be published in July.

We’ve also introduced a quality aspect to our recurring triennial visits to regulated institutions. These visits, incorporating governors, students and institutional staff, will allow us to gather intelligence and explore issues relating to quality assurance and academic governance in more detail with institutions.

HEFCW as a regulator

HEFCW has been the regulator of HE in Wales since 2015. We regulate fees for full-time undergraduate students at regulated institutions; approve, monitor and evaluate fee and access plans; make arrangements for the assessment of the quality of education of regulated institutions in Wales; and assure the financial management of regulated institutions.

We will work with institutions to ensure that the student interest is protected and with students to ensure that students are considered as partners within quality assurance and wider decision making.

Twelve core principles

The Framework:

  1. Continues to be based on the autonomy of HE providers with degree awarding powers to set and maintain academic standards, and on the responsibility of all providers to determine and deliver the most appropriate academic experience for their students wherever and however they study.
  2. Uses peer review and appropriate external scrutiny as a core component of quality assessment and assurance approaches.
  3. Has students integrated as partners in the design, implementation, monitoring and reviewing of processes to improve the quality of their education.
  4. Provides accountability, value for money, and easily understood assurance to students.
  5. Works well for increasingly diverse and different missions, and types of providers, and ensures that providers are able to experiment and innovate in strategic direction or in approaches to learning and teaching.
  6. Adopts a risk- and evidence-based approach to focus attention on areas where risk to standards and/or to the academic experience of students is greatest.
  7. Intervenes early and rapidly but proportionately when things go wrong.
  8. Provides support for new or less mature providers, while ensuring that the threshold for entry into the sector is set at a level sufficient for an appropriately high quality academic experience and secure degree standards.
  9. Uses a robust evidence base to ensure that opportunities for continuous improvement are identified and exploited by all providers.
  10. Maintains, as far as is possible in a devolved system, a UK-wide approach.
  11. Protects the reputation of the UK higher education system in a global context.
  12. Ensures that the overall cost and burden of the quality assessment and wider assurance system is proportionate.

What does this mean?

The QAF will be robust, and will minimise burden on providers by using a combination of intelligence gathering and effective engagement with institutions. We know this approach works well in Wales.

The Framework places an emphasis on institutional responsibilities to their students, including in relation to consumer law (Competition and Markets Authority guidance) and complaints (the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s good practice framework).

The assurance processes which underpin the Framework will allow us to make informed decisions about the quality of provision in Wales.

Are students really at the heart of the system?

Well – yes, actually. The Framework places a particular emphasis on how regulated institutions work in partnership with students and reflects HEFCW policy.

Students are represented on each institutional governing body and on relevant institutional committees. They are included as peer reviewers in the external review commissioned by the governing body, and the student body is consulted as part of the review. All regulated institutions need to have a student charter, setting out the mutual expectations of students, staff, and the student body. Every governing body has to report on the annual dialogue between the institution and the student body, eg via the annual quality report (AQR), which is currently supported by Wise Wales, the initiative for student engagement in Wales. The governing body also has to confirm annually that the results of the National Student Survey, and other surveys of the student population, have been scrutinised and action plans put in place in partnership with the student body. Finally, we engage with the student body through the HEFCW triennial assurance visits.

The NUS Wales President also sits on our Quality Assessment Committee as a Council observer.

How it will work in practice

We try to use all our processes in a way that minimises burden on institutions. For example, we use aspects of the QAF, such as the outcomes of governing body annual assurance statements and scrutiny of data, to inform our analysis of Fee and Access Plans and the Institutional Risk Review process.

The new Framework doesn’t just focus on the data. Around the assurance activity is a programme of regular engagement with regulated institutions; we use this to nip problems in the bud.

Our launch event (29th June) gives students, quality professionals, senior managers and policy makers a chance to discuss current issues in quality assurance, as well as explore key elements of the Framework in more detail. The event includes key note speeches from the Chair of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, Prof Andrew Wathey, and the Chief Executive of the QAA, Douglas Blackstock. To find out more, follow the hashtag #HEFCWQAF18 (or #HEFCWFfAA18 if you want to tweet us in Welsh).

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