European higher education faces significant challenges. The European Commission, in a series of recent strategy papers, has highlighted these challenges – greatly expanding the student population, raising quality and aligning teaching and learning more closely to wider societal and labour market needs; adapting to globalisation; improving and widening the delivery of higher education by harnessing new technologies such as MOOCs and virtual or blended learning. In the face of these challenges, it is vital to maintain and enhance the quality of higher education, developing modernised higher education institutions (HEIs) that equip people with high level skills and drive economic and social development, helping to achieve the Europe 2020 goals of better jobs and stronger growth. As the recent report of the European Commission on “Progress in Quality Assurance in Higher Education” shows, quality assurance is working - up to a point. It is helping to establish a quality culture in Europe's universities and colleges, setting quality goals, involving students in decisions and fostering international cooperation among Member States and their quality assurance agencies. But quality assurance needs further reform: While there is clear improvement in quality culture in general (over 75% of HEIs have a public strategy for internal QA; students and employers are better involved in programme design and decision-making, although often only formally; convergence of European QA systems etc.), quality assurance is still often perceived as focusing too much on process rather than content. It needs to broaden its scope to meet relevant challenges and shift from a box-ticking approach towards the development of a genuine ingrained culture of quality enhancement. When QA is applied as part of a quality culture in institutions, it can support learning and teaching objectives, raising standards and improving learning outcomes. It can also support HEIs to achieve wider strategic goals in setting and evaluating goals and strategies for widening participation in higher education, tackling dropout, increasing retention and completion rates and enhancing employability of graduates; bringing more diversity and specialisation into the HE system; and promoting wider engagement with and accountability to stakeholders.
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