A new QAA Quality Code

A chance to feed back on the latest version.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

The absolute best thing about the current QAA quality code is that it is so very, very, short.

When you compare it to the still popular image of a binder stuffed full of regulations and requirements – or indeed, to the regular Office for Students publication of regulatory documentation comparable in volume (and world-building) to a JRR Tolkien novel – the reality of a single sheet of A4 is bracing in brevity while remaining comprehensive in coverage.

So my heart sank (a little) on seeing the current version out for consultation extending to a full seven pages. Sector agreed principles (with explicit links to international standards and norms) are backed up by a series of agreed practices across three themes:

  • Strategic approach to quality and standards (3 principles)
  • Evaluating quality and standards (3 principles)
  • Implementing the approach to quality enhancement and standards (6 principles)

There’s a new emphasis on the involvement of students within quality assurance, and clearer articulation between the worlds of assurance and enhancement – and a very welcome new section on governance (including the increasingly widespread use of data as a core tool to drive interventions). The old favourites are still very much in evidence – with an expansion of detail at a top level. I can imagine the practices on handling and managing complaints being very popular among those who work in student support.

As before, these principles and practices cover the bare bones of what you need to do to act as a responsible higher education provider – compliance being a regulatory requirement in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The position in England has changed since the last iteration – the Quality Code has an optional status (with the occasional hints that it may in fact be an occasion of sin in the OfS cosmology).

The QAA has moved to reposition the cyclical review offer in England as a value-added approach to demonstrating compliance with international norms via a direct mapping to the ESG framework. A paid for option for institutional members, it remains to be seen how willing providers are to pay for something they used to complain so bitterly about: though it may play an important role in transnational regulation.

In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland this consultation is a very big deal indeed – and providers and representative bodies will have been feeding into the plethora of engagement activities over the summer, and will almost certainly provide detailed feedback at this stage too. In England, the close sector involvement in the development and ownership of academic standards, quality assurance, and quality enhancement feels like a pipe dream – though this should not limit engagement with or responses to a very useful (and still very readable) document.

But I do hope QAA get it down to a single page again. Just for the bragging rights

All responses need to be in by 19 January 2024 at 5pm.

2 responses to “A new QAA Quality Code

  1. Sadly, the shift to a single page felt like an apology for the QAA academic infrastructure bibles of the 00s and 10s and a too-late attempt to change its reputation for over-prescription before OfS took over in England, based in part from that reputation.

    The enhancement themes being binding for the majority of institutions affected by the code in Scotland meant it was always an oddity to not have them in the main body of the code.

    “Students as partners” has pinged back in. I worked at an institution that fought hard to get this in an earlier Quality Code and was disappointed when it was removed. From an English perspective it’s interesting (neutral) to see this return without any expectations of protecting or promoting students’ free speech in the academy.

    1. What strange re-writing of history your post amounts to. Even before the single page version the code had been admirably slimmed many times and was, whilst of course not without issue, a strong set of sensible expectations – developed by genuine sectoral expertise that admirably hung together across a very diverse range of institutions and contexts.

      Take a look around almost any other regulated sector/industry and you will see regulatory guidance that tries to do similar – the QC at least by the 10s was an admirable example of it.

      We should be under no illusion that the latter days of HEFCEs and then OFSs moves to undermine it were born not of some virtue driven desire to cut burden (one only needs to look at the simultaneously complex yet empty mess that OFS has made of regulation to realise that) but a simple territorial (personality driven) desire to be be ‘the only regulator in town’ .

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