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UK Quality Code 2.0

Catherine Boyd introduces the new UK Quality Code for higher education, picking out five key changes.
This article is more than 6 years old

Catherine is a former Executive Officer at Wonkhe.

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has published the new UK-wide Quality Code, following the consultation launched in December last year.

We knew from the recent regulatory framework that the OfS appears to have adopted the new vision for the Quality Code but questions remained about the nations. Today’s publication confirms the more UK-wide approach to the revised Quality Code the UKSCQA intends to take.

Commendably succinct and clearly expressed, the latest version of the UK Quality Code, sets out the expectations placed on providers. In one table, on one side of A4 paper, the expected core and common practices are outlined under two categories – standards and quality. OfS could perhaps learn a thing or two here about presenting information.

So, what has changed?

1. Common ground?

One of the most controversial elements in the December proposals for the new Quality Code was the use of “core” and “supplementary” practice, and more importantly what formed the latter. For many, placing enhancement-led practice into this category suggested it was unequal and drastically undermined the approach of the nations, particularly in Scotland which prides itself on being enhancement-led. It also made the Quality Code appear too English-centric and close to the needs of purportedly outcomes-focused OfS.

Instead, we see these practices promoted into the main Quality Code table under the renamed “common” (rather than supplementary) practice column in the table. The latter is described by UKSCQA as practices “that will be applied by providers in line with their missions, their regulatory context, and the needs of their students. These are practices common to the underpinning of quality in all UK providers but are not regulatory requirements for providers in England.”

It may not apply to English providers, but if you are looking to compare and compete with institutions across the whole UK, probably worth paying attention to.

2. Student engagement is back

In the original document, there was a small nod to student feedback within the core practice outcomes, but this was a significant downgrade for the student voice in quality assurance. However, the development of student engagement in the UK has been internationally renowned and hard fought. For many, this was too much of a demotion.

Furthermore, the strong reaction from the sector to the limited function of students in the Office for Students seemed to send a clear message that students remained at the heart of the system. As such, we now see a greater focus on student engagement as a common practice, under quality: “The provider actively engages students, individually and collectively, in the quality of their educational experience.”

3. Engaging those pesky employers and PSRBs

Employability and quality assurance has always been a challenging area to articulate, but with so much focus on graduate outcomes it has become more fundamental to a high-quality system. Originally missing from the first iteration of the revised Code, the new version looks to clarify this position more clearly under the term “partnership”. However, I fear it’s fallen into the same trap Chapter B10 (Collaborative Provision) does, by trying to be all things to all people. According to the glossary, “partnership” refers to TNE, franchises, work-based learning providers and more.

Despite referencing professional and academic outcomes as a core practice, the new version of the revised Code doesn’t actually mention the word “employability”. Furthermore, engaging wider stakeholders, such as employers and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs), won’t necessarily be made easier with this new version of the Quality Code.

4. Will it align with the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG)?

The difficulty of aligning the Quality Code to the ESG alone, is that the code isn’t designed to reflect the wider quality assessment system, such as cyclical review. However, points in the code that would align to the ESG include externality, a reference to continuous improvement, and the UK’s international standing. In the original revised version, all of these elements appeared missing or significantly watered down. However, UKSCQA have tried to make these elements more explicit, to show their commitment to the ESG. But, will it satisfy the needs of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA)? Interestingly, QAA has just undergone their own ENQA review, so watch this space…

5. It’s short and simple

We’ve mentioned that it’s short and simple, but my god it is so short! I mentioned in my previous blog that the increased role and function of governors within the English QA system meant a shorter and more concise Quality Code was necessary. But, many will be keen to see the advice and guidance that will underpin the revised Code, due in November 2018. There will be an extensive consultation process starting soon.


2 responses to “UK Quality Code 2.0

  1. “These are practices common to the underpinning of quality in all UK providers but are not regulatory requirements for providers in England.””

    The distinction between Good and “good enough”?

    I am sure OFS would argue that this goes to the heart of the change that they will usher in – but it feels as if it simply creates a gap, and one that does not protect either the reputation of the sector in England, or the experience of students.

  2. Disappointing that “students as partners” has not survived the new Quality Code Expectations. Indeed positive that student engagement is reinstated, but sad that partnership is referenced only when referring to partnerships with other organisations.

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