The past 20 years have seen significant investments in Quality Assurance infrastructure across Europe, thanks largely to the focus on quality assurance provided by the Bologna Process. Starting with the ESGs and EQAVET, a multitude of standards provide guidance as to what constitutes quality. Quality approaches in institutions vary widely, and despite efforts to the contrary, often quality assurance is reduced to a “commitment to quality culture” supported by a bureaucratic and time-consuming set of checks, often in the form of evaluation questionnaire of various kinds.
In fact, according to analysis from the European Commission contained in the Modernisation Agenda for Education, educational institutions are not:
- Equipping enough people with the right skills for modern society;
- Doing enough to tackle social divisions, in particular with regards to people from low socioeconomic and migrant backgrounds;
- Contributing enough to innovation in the places they are located, and
- Organized and funded in a way that allows them to work well.
Quality assurance policy in Europe has either been unable to detect or unable to resolve these issues. It is the project’s hypothesis that this is due to quality assurance which is applied nearly exclusively at a course/programme level rather than at institutional-strategy level, where it can be a lever for organizational transformation.
In analysing this phenomenon, the project partners have identified a lack of formalised expertise in quality management amongst institutional top management as a key barrier limiting uptake. Often institutional leaders will have never received any formal training in QA-management, and thus, while having significant expertise as to what constitutes quality education, will have limited expertise in how to translate that mission and vision into a management system based on clear quality objectives, backed up by steady processes that will assure the adequate planning and realization of activities leading to the achievement of those objectives, as well as monitoring and analysing processes that will enable continual improvement.
- A properly implemented quality management system allows an institution to understand the requirements of all its stakeholders, including students, industry and society, and then to design a mission, vision and strategy that addresses those requirements. Thus, the main intended impact from QALead is to change attitudes towards quality assurance from a compliance-focused mindset that focuses on the needs of learners, enterprise and society.