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«Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal Paper presented in track 1 ...»

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Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the

European higher education area in Portugal

Paper presented in track 1 at the

EAIR 37th Annual Forum in Krems, Austria

30 August till 2 September 2015

Name of Author(s)

Maria J. Rosa

Cláudia S. Sarrico

Isabel Machado

Carolina Costa

Contact Details

Maria J. Rosa

CIPES and Universidade de Aveiro

Rua 1º de Dezembro, n.º399

4450-227 Matosinhos


E-mail: m.joao@ua.pt

Key words

Assessment/Evaluation, Governance, Management, National systems of higher education, Quality Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal Abstract Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal ESG creation was one significant result of the Bologna process, providing a new impetus to research in the quality assurance area. This work reflects about the underlying structure of the ESG Part1, namely the adequacy between the seven standards and the guidelines suggested to implement them in higher education institutions. We use the results of a survey which gathered data on Portuguese academics’ perceptions on the importance and degree of implementation of the ESG Part 1. We expect that a better understanding of ESG Part 1 may contribute to improve its use as a framework to implement internal quality assurance systems aligned with the institutions’ governance and management systems.

Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal Presentation Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal Introduction HEIs are increasingly pressed to perform and excel in order to attract funding, students, qualified staff, obtain legitimacy, etc. Simultaneously, they are also pressed to demonstrate they are capable of guarantying the quality of that performance. One strategy they may follow is to implement internal quality assurance systems (IQAS), which allow not only to internally pursue higher levels of quality, but also to be externally accountable to different stakeholders.

The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) were developed by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) in cooperation with the European University Association, the European Student Information Bureau and the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (ENQA, 2009). The ESG were developed in response to demands from the Berlin Communiqué (2003) to ‘develop an agreed set of standards, procedures and guidelines on QA (and) to explore ways of ensuring an adequate peer review system for QA and/or accreditation agencies or bodies.’ According to Prikulis, Rusakova, & Rauhvargers (2013), as the ESG include a set of standards and guidelines for internal quality assurance (ESG Part 1) they are indeed a reference model HEIs can use in their efforts to implement IQAS. Nevertheless, the ESG Part 1 is not a prescriptive or unchangeable model for IQAS. Instead its aim is only to provide assistance and guidance to HEIs in developing their own quality assurance systems (ENQA, 2009), acting as a factor capable of promoting the development of innovative approaches to internal QA, as well as an institutional quality improvement culture. As such it leaves to HEIs a significant degree of freedom to decide on the best approach to develop their own IQAS, which in may contribute for HEIs differentiation, helping them to compete for their own position in an increasingly competitive and globalised world.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss and reflect about the underlying structure of the ESG Part1, namely the adequacy between the seven standards and the guidelines suggested to implement them in higher education institutions (HEIs). The intended discussion and reflection is based on the Portuguese context and uses data from a research project undertaken at CIPES (The Centre for Research in Higher Education Policies) about the importance and implementation degree of the ESG within Portuguese HEIs. The project included the design of a questionnaire based on the guidelines for the implementation of the ESG Part 1 in HEIs, which was used to collect Portuguese academics’ perceptions of their importance and their degree of implementation in their institutions. The survey was held in 2014 and covered the whole population of Portuguese academics.

We expect that a better understanding of ESG Part 1 may contribute to improve its use as a framework to implement IQAS aligned with the institutions’ governance and management systems and, as such, capable of contributing to their overall performance and positioning in an increasingly competitive and globalised world.

IQAS implementation and the relevance of the ESG In the last decades different factors led to a lack of confidence in HEIs and in their ability to ensure their own quality standards, such as the use of markets as instruments of public policy (Dill et al.,

2004) and the emergence of New Public Management. Simultaneously different countries have established national systems for evaluation and accreditation (Schwarz and Westerheijden, 2004), due to an increased emphasis on the need to externally assure the quality of HEIs and cycles of study.

Indeed the European policy for higher education and the national assessment and accreditation agencies have played a crucial role in establishing quality assurance policies and practices (namely the ESG) in universities (Sarrico, Veiga, & Amaral, 2013; Veiga & Sarrico, 2014).

Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal However, the bureaucracy associated to more intrusive QA systems often seems to be far from HEIs’ central activities, namely knowledge creation and students learning (Harvey and Newton, 2007). This is one of the reasons why in some countries we have witnessed the development of a new approach to QA, the so-called Quality Enhancement approach (Filippakou and Tapper, 2008). According to Rosa and Amaral (2012: 124) quality enhancement may be seen as “an attempt of universities to regain trust by restating that quality is their major responsibility and that the role of outside agencies should be limited to quality audits”.

In a recent study on the comparison of European processes for the assessment and certification of IQAS, Santos (2011) states that in all countries that have signed the Bologna Declaration institutions are obliged to implement internal systems for quality assurance, in accordance with the fundamental idea that quality and quality assurance are primarily their responsibility. Furthermore, the author refers that although in some countries that obligation was already present before Bologna, the truth is that the adoption of the European standards and guidelines (ESG) in Bergen in 2005, and their acceptance by the different countries involved, has decisively contributed to the visibility that is now given to this topic in higher education at European level. According to Kohoutek & Westerheijden (2014: 168) by 2010 almost all European universities ‘had implemented some form of national quality assurance policy measures’ and ‘quality assurance has been embedded into … institutional processes’. Different authors also refer that this evolution has been boosted by European entities, which have been encouraging the quality debate in the European higher education area and attempting to create a common understanding of the principles and procedures associated with internal and external quality assurance (ENQA, 2009; Kohoutek & Westerheijden, 2014; Veiga & Sarrico, 2014).

In his study, Santos (2011) mentions that in most countries the way IQAS are organised and function is not specified in detail, being up to each institution to define and implement its own system in accordance with its mission, goals and institutional culture. Nevertheless, an effort has been made by the national evaluation and accreditation agencies to prepare and adopt guidelines for institutions to set up their systems (most of the times in consultation with the institutions and other interested parties), especially in the cases where institutional audits of internal quality assurance systems are in place. Additionally the ESG, by associating a set of guidelines to each one of the seven standards for internal quality assurance, also provide valuable indications for the institutions to set up their own systems.

Portugal is not an exception at this respect (Rosa and Sarrico, 2012). Following a new pack of legislation issued in 2007, significant changes were introduced in institutions’ governance structures and in the internal organisation of the Portuguese higher education system, including its quality assessment system. The legislation change has made clear a separation of roles in terms of quality issues: the government has the power to demand accountability from institutions regarding their quality, but it is up to the institutions to develop mechanisms in order to internally assure their own quality. The logic behind the legislation pack seems then to be one of giving institutions more autonomy, allowing them to govern and manage themselves, namely in terms of quality. The government, through its agencies, will then demand accountability (Sarrico 2010; Rosa and Sarrico, 2012). So in the last years we could observe the development of IQAS within Portuguese HEIs.

In a more or less systematised way, with a more or less comprehensive nature and with different degrees of consolidation, the truth is that a significant number of HEIs has tried to design and implement IQAS capable of allowing them to assure the quality of their processes, especially teaching and learning. Furthermore, institutional audits of IQAS (leading to their certification) are anticipated in the law and the Portuguese Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES) has already started to conduct such audits based in a set of standards and criteria developed internally but very much based on the ESG. Actually there are in Portugal twelve HEIs with certified IQAS.

Furthermore, it is also interesting to observe the relationship of institutional governance mechanisms and quality management, how dynamic this relationship is (Sarrico et al. 2013), and indeed how the implementation of the ESG is part of it.

Ascribing meaning to the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area in Portugal Data and methods The research project carried out had two major goals: (i) to understand the importance the ESG Part 1 standards have for Portuguese HEIs, as a framework for implementing their QA systems; and (ii) to assess the degree of implementation of such standards in Portuguese HEIs. In order to accomplish the two goals, a questionnaire was designed based on the ESG Part1 standards and guidelines (ENQA, 2009), which are: ESG1 – policy and procedures for quality assurance, referring to a commitment to the development of a quality culture; ESG2 – approval, monitoring and periodic reviews of programmes and awards, in respect of formal mechanisms and procedures; ESG3 – assessment of students, referring to ‘published criteria, regulations and procedures consistently applied’; ESG4 – quality assurance of teaching staff, through the analysis of the teaching staff’s competencies and quality; ESG5 – learning resources and student support, assuring that they are ‘adequate and appropriate for each programme offered’; ESG6 – information systems, which should ensure the collection, analysis and use of ‘relevant information for the effective management of their programmes of study and other activities’; and ESG7 – public information.

The questionnaire comprised two parts. The first included a set of questions regarding the respondent’s knowledge of the standards, their importance and degree of implementation in the respondent’s institution. Academics were asked to answer on a scale from 1-totally disagree to 7totally agree (the option I do not know was also available). The second part was intended to characterise the respondent: sex, age, research area, education system (public or private, university or polytechnic), category in teaching career, and highest academic degree.

The Portuguese higher education system is constituted of polytechnics and universities, both private and public. Universities are research-oriented institutions while polytechnics have a more vocational character. The public sector comprises 14 universities, 15 polytechnics institutes and 5 polytechnic schools not integrated in HEIs; the private sector has 8 universities, 20 other institutions offering university degrees and 49 polytechnic institutions (DGES 2015). Therefore, the Portuguese higher education system can be considered as complex in terms of size, type of institutions and territorial dispersion (Fonseca, Encarnação, and Justino 2014), especially when compared with other western European countries.

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