Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Improving quality assurance in higher education

Yesterday HEFCE launched a consultation on the introduction of a more risk-based approach to quality assurance in higher education in England, in response to the Government’s White Paper, ‘Students at the heart of the system’.

Drafted with the advice of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), the aim of the proposed approach is to direct attention and effort to where it will have the most benefit in the development, enhancement and safeguarding of quality and standards. It will contribute to a reduction in the external regulation of those higher education providers with a longer track record of assuring quality and standards. The interests of students are central to the approach.

The proposals build on the current quality assurance arrangements, based on the self-regulation of autonomous HE providers with external assurance. They reflect the work that the sector, the QAA and partners have undertaken over the last few years to ensure the quality assurance system is more robust and public-facing.

The consultation (HEFCE 2012/11) proposes that in future the frequency, nature and intensity of external quality assurance will be guided by each higher education provider’s record in assuring the quality of its provision, as well as the nature of that provision. This approach will be applied transparently, in accordance with established principles of better regulation.

Under the proposals, institutions with a longer track record in external quality assurance will undergo less frequent and potentially less intensive reviews.  The more risk-based approach to quality assurance envisages including a more rigorous and flexible process for instigating QAA investigations outside of the regular programme of external reviews. It is proposed that this would include a central, annual review of national data and information that is already available. Combined with the existing ability for students (and others) to trigger investigations under the QAA ‘Concerns’ scheme, the process should be more responsive to early warning signs that quality and standards might be at risk.

The proposals also seek to ensure that the enhancement element of review is strengthened; and that there is continued student engagement in quality assurance and enhancement processes.

The approach set out in the consultation will apply to all higher education institutions in England in receipt of public funding, and other providers subscribing to the QAA.

HEFCE Chief Executive, Sir Alan Langlands, said:

‘Our existing quality assurance arrangements already tell us that higher education is of a very high quality. The proposals in this consultation will further improve the system by providing a targeted approach and by applying scrutiny where it is most needed. In partnership with the QAA, we will ensure that the quality assurance system is robust and rigorous and, above all, has the interests of students at its core’

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said:

'This is an opportunity for the sector to develop its robust quality assurance system into one which is more targeted, responsive and proportionate. It needs to continue to provide the assurance that students and the wider public need. The consultation poses issues and questions which I encourage the sector to address, and to shake off, once and for all, any lingering criticism of complacency about quality.'

The consultation is available on the HEFCE web-site.


  1. Higher education and further education institutions, students and other interested parties are invited to respond to the consultation by 31 July 2012. Consultation events will be held on 18 June in London and 21 June in Birmingham.
  2. The proposals consulted on will apply to quality assurance processes in England only.

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