What’s next for the Quality Code?

Those in the sector familiar with the detail of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education could be forgiven for a sharp intake of breath when they saw the new overarching framework of the code on its launch last week. We promised radical streamlining and we have certainly delivered.

Catherine Boyd summarised the revised expectations and practices well in her post UK Quality Code 2.0. We thought it may be helpful for us at QAA to reflect briefly on the consultation feedback received and set out the next steps, as these will support the sector in understanding and shaping “the code”.

A vision

The UK Quality Code is now a significant unifier in a much more diverse higher education landscape. It is the systemic reference point for defining standards and quality, it has been commended nationally and internationally for its role in protecting standards and quality and driving change, and it embodies the co-regulatory approach that underpins UK HE. With this latest iteration, we will endeavour to keep UK institutions at the leading edge of practice internationally.

Having strategic oversight from a genuinely UK-wide committee (UKSCQA) has been invaluable, ensuring that the code continues to provide that coherent framework across the four nations.

Reflections

With a reaffirmed vision in mind, we can reflect on some of the issues raised in the consultation. Some of these have been addressed through the new expectations, core, and common practices. Others will be addressed in that all-important underpinning advice and guidance that will form the basis of a fully revised code. The UKSCQA set this out in its analysis of the consultation responses.

The consultation responses highlighted four key areas of concern that we came to refer to as the four “E’s”: externality, (student) engagement, employability, and enhancement.

Externality was seen as a fundamental element in managing standards, worthy of recognition at the baseline level. As a response, externality has been included in the core practices under the Standards section. In terms of alignment to the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), we are confident that if institutions work to the key principles that will be set out in the advice and guidance then institutional practice should align appropriately with the ESG.

Student engagement was another area that drew a strong response. We were told it was not enough to rely on regularly seeking and acting on students’ views. The response has been to revise the core practice accordingly, with an impetus to reflect on cooperation and partnership as key principles in the advice and guidance.

For the final two “E’s” we were urged to strengthen the recognition of “employability” and present enhancement on an equal level across every nation. The response has been to move enhancement into the common practices, and commit to an approach beyond those practices to be set out in the code’s supporting advice and guidance. To address the inclusion of employability, the advice and guidance will focus on how providers engage with employers and PSRBs, for example through curriculum development and delivery of work-based learning and degree apprenticeships.

Advice and guidance

We have mentioned “advice and guidance” a few times. It is this advice and guidance that will provide the detailed explanation and focus that will allow institutions across the UK to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect of each other.

Much of the code as it currently exists fits into the loose category of “advice and guidance”. Given the current structure of the code, the radical changes we’ve made mean we shouldn’t simply reproduce what has gone before. Equally, given our commitment to have a full code in place by November, we don’t have the three years it took to develop and write the code’s guidance in the same way as we did before. And – let’s be honest – we all know that, despite what were intended to be indicators of sound practice from which institutions could pick and choose to demonstrate how they met the expectations of the quality code, these were often used as a comprehensive checklist.
Below is a list of proposed themes for the advice and guidance, taken from the common messages we received through the recent consultation. Regular users of the code will note some parity with the current chapters.

  • Learning and teaching
  • Assessment
  • Partnerships
  • Work-based learning
  • Research degrees
  • Admissions
  • Complaints and appeals
  • Externality
  • Student support
  • Student engagement and enhancement

What’s next?

It’s a tight window, and the pace may be frenetic, but we will be as inclusive as we can in our approach, and have organised multiple opportunities for you to feedback and get involved.

This month, we will begin shaping the advice and guidance with sessions across the country. See the QAA website for details of how to register.

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