Quality Code advice and guidance: creative freedom without compromising quality

The cornerstone for quality and standards in UK higher education, the new UK Quality Code for Higher Education, will publish in full tomorrow (29 November) at 1400.

The Expectations and Practices, published in March 2018, set out the 'core' and 'common' practices that providers are expected to comply with. The core practices will be mandatory for universities and other higher education providers across all regulatory administrations in the UK, while the common practices will be requirements for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish providers (see note 2). In England, providers may wish to work towards the common practices, but are not required to do so as these are not regulatory requirements and will not be assessed as part of the OfS’s regulatory framework.

Today's publication of the focused Advice and Guidance completes the Quality Code. Its 12 themes offer guiding principles, practical advice and reflective questions on areas including Assessment, Work-based Learning and Enabling Student Achievement.

UK higher education providers will not be required to follow the Advice and Guidance and will not be regulated against it, but may find it helpful in developing and maintaining effective quality assurance practices.

Work-based Learning, for example, includes advice on how providers, students' unions and professional bodies can stay connected with students in the workplace. Enabling student achievement suggests how to offer the best support for vulnerable groups like care leavers or gender transitioning students.

The new Advice and Guidance has been produced unequivocally by and for the UK higher education sector. One hundred and twenty two academics, quality managers, student representatives and sector experts worked with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to write guidance for each of the 12 themes.

Authors represented 11 Russell Group universities, nine university members each from MillionPlus and University Alliance, six Cathedral Group universities, 24 non-aligned universities, 13 further education colleges and four independent providers, as well as careers, professional and student voice experts.

'Providers have told us they value a framework for academic standards and quality that allows them to express their autonomy and individuality, and we've embraced that,' says QAA Chief Executive Douglas Blackstock.

'Our aim with the Advice and Guidance is to give all UK providers a set of guiding principles, practical advice and resources that will support them in meeting the Expectations and Practices without tying them to rigid processes.

'We're looking forward to seeing the different ways they put the Advice and Guidance into practice so that we can share the quality and diversity that are so vital to the reputation of UK higher education.'

The revised UK Quality Code for Higher Education was developed by QAA on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment. Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University, chairs the Committee. He said:

'The new Quality Code will continue to perform a key role as a UK-wide reference point for quality and standards in UK higher education, but with greater fitness for purpose in a changing and increasingly diverse higher education sector.

'We now have a Quality Code that is student focused, meets the varying regulatory requirements across the UK nations, and is future facing.

'UKSCQA appreciates the efforts of all who have played a part in this achievement:  contributors and respondents from all parts of the higher education sector and all UK nations; QAA, which carried out the exacting work on the Code's development; the UK's funding and regulatory bodies; and sector representative groups, including Universities UK, GuildHE, the Association of Colleges and the NUS’.

Notes to editors

  • Transitional arrangements for moving to the new Code as a reference point for quality assessment reviews vary across the nations. Providers undergoing a review in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland will reference the existing Code until August 2019.  Providers in England which are currently designated for student support by the Secretary of State and not yet registered by the OfS and are undergoing annual monitoring and other review-related activities will reference the existing Code until 31 July 2019.  All providers in England registered by the OfS will use the new Code.
  • The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment provides sector-led oversight of higher education quality assessment arrangements that continue to be shared across the UK. The Committee has members drawn from regulated providers in England and Wales, publicly-funded universities and colleges in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and providers currently designated for student support by the Secretary of State in England. Student interests are represented by both the National Union of Students and individual student members. Membership is also drawn from the four UK higher education funding/regulatory bodies, sector bodies and regulatory partners. Find out more at ukscqa.org.uk.
  • QAA is the independent quality body for UK higher education. It is a higher education charitable company, which is limited by guarantee and whose members are representative organisations of the higher education sector. More information on QAA is available at qaa.ac.uk
  • The UK Quality Code for Higher Education embodies the co-regulatory approach that underpins UK higher education. Providers should use the Quality Code in line with their educational mission, national quality arrangements, and regulatory requirements. As higher education is the responsibility of the individual UK nations, the precise national arrangements for quality assessment differ, including how parts of the Quality Code will be used in external oversight and review.

Universities taking steps to tackle grade inflation

UK universities and other higher education providers are planning a range of changes to the degree classification system to tackle perceptions of grade inflation and ensure public confidence in the results students receive and the value of a degree.

A report by Universities UK (UUK), GuildHE and QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) looked at the reasons behind the increase in the number of graduates receiving first and upper-second class degrees.

The report finds that a wide range of factors could be driving the increase in upper degrees, including additional investment in teaching and learning and heightened student motivation. However, there is a risk that a continued increase in the number of top degrees may undermine confidence in the value of a degree from a UK university, making the classification system less useful for employers and students.

Today, [Wednesday 28 November 2018] the UKSCQA is launching a UK-wide consultation to gain feedback on how the recommendations in the report can be developed and implemented by the higher education sector in order to protect the value of qualifications over time.

Degree classification is a matter for individual institutions and degrees are awarded based on assessment by academics, internal and external moderation and sector-wide frameworks.

Universities are committed to ensuring that value of qualifications and maintaining public confidence in the results students receive. Therefore, the report recommends that universities should issue a sector-wide statement of intent, leading to actions to protect the value of qualifications over time. This includes commitments such as:

  • Reviewing and publishing evidence on their degree outcomes at the institutional level – the skills and knowledge demonstrated by graduates at every grade with external assurance of the data –  in a statement. This should enable a university’s governing body to ensure the university is protecting the value of its qualifications
  • Agreeing common criteria, to be used by all universities, to describe the quality of work required for each degree classification
  • Publishing and explaining scoring systems and processes that universities follow to determine a student’s final degree classification in an accessible format, including why any practice differs from accepted norms

The report also notes the following points:

  • Degree classifications are featured explicitly in some university league tables. Where competition to attract students is high, universities have an incentive to perform well in league tables. As part of a consultation, universities will consider whether steps should be taken to reduce the potential for inflationary impacts of incentives in organisational performance linked to the number of upper degrees awarded in league tables
  • Universities should reconsider when and how rounded marks (where the raw mark is rounded to the nearest whole number, for example) can be used and whether the practice of ‘discounting’ modules – typically setting aside poor marks and considering performance across other modules – should continue
  • Universities should work with HESA to develop information and ways to make it easier for the public and universities to compare data on degree results

UK-wide consultation

The consultation, run by QAA on behalf of the UKSCQA, invites respondents to consider these recommendations in line with national regulatory contexts, how they might be taken forward, and what further action might need to be taken.

QAA will be hosting consultation workshops throughout January 2019. Responses should be made through the online portal by February 2019.

Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northumbria and Chair of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, said: 

“This report shows that there is a clear need for the higher education sector to take action to grip the issue of grade inflation, and to demonstrate its ability to maintain the value of a UK qualification. The UKSCQA welcomes feedback throughout the consultation period from all those who have an interest in ensuring that we can have confidence in the standard of a UK degree. These proposals will need meaningful engagement from the higher education sector as it considers how best to take them forward in national contexts while ensuring the overarching integrity of a UK-wide system.” 

Professor Debra Humphris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton and Chair of UUK’s Student Policy Network, said: 

We have some of the best teaching in the world and highly motivated students who are eager to learn, but we cannot ignore the legitimate concerns about grade inflation. It is essential that the public has full confidence in the value of a degree, and that degree classifications are meaningful for employers and students. 

We want to see greater levels of transparency and consistency in academic standards. This report and the upcoming UK-wide consultation will help universities consider how they can best protect the value of qualifications over time."

Notes 

  1. This work has been undertaken by UUK, GuildHE and QAA on behalf of the UKSCQA.
  2. The main report and a further technical report are attached to this email. These reports, alongside the consultation document, will be available online on Wednesday 28 November 2018.
  3. Degree classification is a matter for individual institutions and degrees are awarded based on assessment by academics, internal and external moderation and sector-wide frameworks. Every university has a different subject mix, student body, faculties and departments and different course curricula and content which makes comparison difficult, however the consultation will help to commonly agree standards.
  4. UKSCQA provides sector-led oversight of higher education quality assessment arrangements that continue to be shared across the UK. The committee has members drawn from regulated providers in England and Wales, publicly-funded universities and colleges in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and providers currently designated for student support by the Secretary of State in England. Student interests are represented by both the National Union of Students and individual student members. Membership is also drawn from the four UK higher education funding/regulatory bodies, sector bodies and regulatory partners.
  5. Universities UK is the collective voice of 137 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk

OfS membership of UKSCQA

From 1 April 2018, HEFCE’s responsibilities as a member of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment transferred to the Office for Students (OfS).

OfS is the new regulatory body for higher education in England. For any queries, please contact info@officeforstudents.org.uk.


UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment publishes new Quality Code Expectations and practices

Today the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) publishes new Expectations and practices for the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

The revised Expectations and practices of the Code respond to an extensive consultation across the UK higher education sector, which was co-ordinated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) on behalf of all members of the UKSCQA. The resulting Expectations and practices will form the basis of a fully revised UK Quality Code, which is scheduled for publication in late 2018.

The revisions refocus the Code on core principles in quality assurance, improve its accessibility, and guarantee its fitness for purpose in an evolving regulatory landscape. They ensure that the Code continues to fulfil its role as the cornerstone of quality in UK higher education, irrespective of changing contexts.

Feedback throughout the consultation came from all nations, ensuring a UK-wide approach is maintained. Responses submitted by student groups and all types of higher education provider were also important in improving the Code’s accessibility to the full diversity of the sector and its stakeholders, including students.

UKSCQA welcomed the engagement of the sector throughout this first phase of consultation. The next stage of the UK Quality Code review will continue throughout Spring 2018 as it develops the underpinning advice and guidance of the Code. UKSCQA looks forward to working with students and providers in this final stage of the review.

Professor Andrew Wathey, Chair of the UKSCQA, said:

In an increasingly diverse higher education sector, it is essential that the UK Quality Code remains the definitive reference point for managing quality and standards in UK higher education, while being sufficiently flexible to adapt to varying regulatory needs.

The proposals have greatly benefitted from the thoughtful reflections of respondents from all parts of the sector, and from all nations of the UK. UKSCQA have worked closely with our members and sector group representatives UniversitiesUK, GuildHE, the Association of Colleges, and the NUS, to finalise a Quality Code that is accessible to students, future facing, co-regulatory, and truly UK-wide.

Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said:

The Quality Code acts as the glue for the UK's higher education system. This latest evolution ensures all types of providers will remain at the leading edge of practice internationally. Working in partnership, we've developed a streamlined and flexible Code that's fit for the future. As well as the four new Expectations, it sets out core practices that ensure quality and standards are well managed and common practices that mature providers can use to enrich and enhance their students' experiences.

But the work doesn't stop here. QAA will be working closely with the sector between now and November to develop a full set of advice and guidance that will help assure universities, colleges and other institutions that they deliver programmes at the standard their students should expect.

The revised Quality Code Expectations and practices can be found on the UKSCQA website: https://ukscqa.org.uk/what-we-do/consultation-on-the-uk-quality/.


Examining grade inflation with UKSCQA and Universities UK

Earlier this week, Wonkhe published two blogs on grade inflation from UKSCQA Chair Andrew Wathey and UKSCQA members Universities UK, GuildHE and QAA.

These blogs share detail on a new programme of work on grade inflation, which is being co-ordinated by UKSCQA’s sector body members and QAA.

Read the blog from Andrew Wathey
Read the blog from Universities UK


UKSCQA member, HEFCE, blogs on degree standards

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment works with its members to ensure the provision of high quality education across the UK. This includes oversight of programmes that support the reliability of degree standards.

Today new data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) is published, which shows that over a quarter of first degree students in 2016/17 were awarded a first class degree. HEFCE – a member of UKSCQA – has blogged on how their work with us and other UKSCQA members is developing work to strengthen the existing systems and processes, which are in place to maintain the standard of qualifications and ensure that they maintain their value over time. This includes a programme of support and training for external examiners, which is being developed by the Higher Education Academy.

Read the blog from HEFCE


Professor Andrew Wathey explains why we need a consultation on the UK Quality Code

With just a few days remaining to respond to the consultation on the UK Quality Code, Professor Andrew Wathey, Chair of the UKSCQA, blogs for Wonkhe on why we need to revisit and rethink the code.

Responses to the consultation will close at midnight on Wednesday 13 December.

Read the consultation on the UK Quality Code for Higher Education

Respond to the consultation on the UK Quality Code for Higher Education

 


UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment launches consultation on review of Quality Code

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has published a consultation on the review of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. It encourages responses to the review from across the sector.

The growing number and diversity of higher education providers means that the UK Quality Code is of wider interest than ever before. Proposals for change to the existing Code are made in the context of regulatory change across the UK and reflect the entire higher education sector.

The consultation on the review to the UK Quality Code seeks feedback on a proposed set of simplified expectations that will give clear guidance to the higher education sector on maintaining standards and ensuring the quality of the academic experience for students.

Providers of all types are being encouraged to engage with the consultation and have their say on the future shape of the Code via an online survey. Responses to the consultation should be submitted by midnight on Wednesday 13 December 2017.

Professor Andrew Wathey, Chair of the UKSCQA, said:

"These proposals streamline the UK Quality Code and strengthen its focus on student success, maintaining the Code’s UK-wide character while accommodating regulatory developments in the four nations. The co-ownership of the Code, between sector bodies and funding bodies, makes it important that change is informed by the fullest possible range of stakeholders’ views."

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is coordinating responses to the consultation on behalf of all members of the UKSCQA.

Douglas Blackstock, the QAA’s Chief Executive, said:

“The UK Quality Code is renowned internationally as a leading and comprehensive framework for quality and standards. In this latest evolution, focussed clearly on outcomes for students, we are setting the agenda that will keep higher education across all nations of the UK ahead of our international competition.”

UKSCQA partners welcome the publication of the consultation and the opportunity for the higher education sector to respond to its development.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, said:

"The UK Quality Code is an essential tool that gives universities, students, employers, funders and regulators - across the UK and internationally - confidence in the high quality of UK higher education. This consultation represents an important opportunity to refresh the Code, including its clarity and focus on academic standards and student outcomes, and to ensure it continues to support the work and success of the sector."

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive of GuildHE, said:

"The UK Quality Code has long been the glue underpinning the UK higher education system, giving confidence to students and employers and providing assurance of the comparability of quality and standards across the four nations of the UK. The Code was developed by and for the sector by the QAA, in the spirit of co-regulation, and the consultation will ensure that the Code remains fit for purpose for the future."

Notes to editors:

  1. The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment provides sector-led oversight of higher education quality assessment arrangements that continue to be shared across the UK, including the UK Quality Code. The committee was set up in 2016 with members drawn from publicly funded universities and colleges and from those providers designated for student support by the Secretary of State in England. Student interests are represented by both the National Union of Students and individual student members. Membership is also drawn from the four UK higher education funding bodies, sector bodies and regulatory partners. For further information on UKSCQA, see ukscqa.org.uk
  2. For more information on the existing UK Quality Code, see http://www.qaa.ac.uk/assuring-standards-and-quality/the-quality-code
  3. For any queries about the UKSCQA, please contact Jessica Bacon on j.bacon@hefce.ac.uk
  4. For any queries about the consultation on the review of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, please contact Catherine Kerfoot at QAA on c.kerfoot@qaa.ac.uk