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European quality assurance

Institutional Evaluation Programme (IEP)

IEP has provided external evaluation services to higher education institutions in the context of their own aims and profiles since 1994. To date, IEP evaluation teams have carried out around 300 evaluations and follow-up evaluations of diverse higher education institutions in 45 countries worldwide. On request of local stakeholders in higher education (ministries, national rectors’ conferences, NGOs), IEP also conducts coordinated evaluations at the national or regional level.
IEP is an independent service of the European University Association (EUA), a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and listed in the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR). You can download a pamphlet with more information about IEP here(external link)
Delegates of the Students' Experts Pool on Quality Assurance of the European Students' Union contribute to the work of the IEP.

EU initiatives in quality assurance before Bologna

The European Pilot Project for Evaluating Quality in Higher Education in 1994 had as an aim to develop an evaluation culture within higher education in the then seventeen countries involved: 15 EU states together with Iceland and Norway.

The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament decided on the Recommendation on European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education . Thus, in 1998 member states set up quality assurance systems in all higher education institutions, based on common principles. These included autonomy and independence of the bodies responsible for quality assurance, adaptation of quality assurance procedures and methods while respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions, use of internal and/or external quality assurance, and involvement of the parties concerned and publication of the results of quality assurance. Among the recommendations was that special attention should be given to the exchange of experience and cooperation with other member states, as well as international organisations and associations. Cooperation and networking between the authorities responsible for quality assurance in higher education should be promoted. It was also stressed that the Commission, in close cooperation with the member states, should encourage this cooperation and networking.

Quality assurance as a key action line in the Bologna process

High quality of provision has been one of the key aims of the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy as a means to promote the attractiveness and competitiveness of European higher education. The Ministerial meetings within the Bologna Process have shaped the European quality assurance framework.

The European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA, now the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) was set up in 2000, following the above cited recommendation from the Council of the European Union from 1998 and the Bologna Declaration from 1999.

The Salamanca Convention of European higher education institutions considered quality as a fundamental building block of the European Higher Education Area and made it the underlying condition for trust, relevance of degrees, mobility, compatibility and attractiveness.

The Prague Communiqué of European education ministers (2001) regards quality as a major factor in determining the competitiveness and attractiveness of European higher education. This communiqué, along with the Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005), London (2007), Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve (2009) and Bucharest (2012) Communiqués, altogether set the European framework for QA.

With the occasion of the Bergen Ministerial Conference in 2005, the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) were adopted. This document was prepared by ENQA in collaboration with EUA, ESU and EURAShigher education, which are known as E4 group. Since then a lot of the EHEA states have followed and implemented the ESG, introducing great reforms into their national quality assurance systems, even though not all of the standards or guidelines were fully implemented. Today, a joint effort has been carried out by the E4 Group in order to track the impact of the ESG and measure its effectiveness and suitability for the original purpose. In this direction, through the MAP-ESG project conducted by the E4 group between 2010 and 2012, information on how the ESG have been implemented and applied in the 47 Bologna signatory countries, on national level, in higher education institutions (HEIs) and in QA agencies have been gathered. The main output of the project is a report on the application and implementation of the ESG. Based on this report, Ministers of Education of the Bologna signatory countries have decided to revise the ESG, as stated in the Bucharest Communiqué (2012).

The idea of a European Quality Assurance Forum (EQAF) was proposed by EUA to the E4 Group in 2003. The proposal to promote such a Forum annually grew from the observation that the dialogue among quality assurance agencies, higher education institutions and students was happening at national rather than at European level. Thus, it seemed important to create an annual European event that gathered all actors in order to discuss matters of quality and quality assurance in the context of the changing higher education landscape, to examine European and international QA trends, and to improve the articulation between quality culture and external accountability. The first edition of the forum took place in 2006, and since then there have been 5 editions.

In 2007, the Ministers that met in London discussed the achievements until then and supported the creation of the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR) in the London Communiqué (2007). Under this mandate, EQAR has been established by the E4 Group.

The London Communiqué also mentions the enhancement of transnational education which should be in line with the ESGs, but also with the UNESCO/OECD Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-Border Higher Education (2005). The declared scope of these guidelines is that of assuring mutual trust and promoting international cooperation among the suppliers and beneficiaries of transnational education.

Bearing in mind the various forms of transnational education, the variety of ways in which an educational institution can function, the great variety of educational institutions themselves, but also the explosion of new abilities and competences needed by the labour market, the development and implementation of a coherent quality assurance mechanism becomes an imperative. The role of the ESG and of the UNESCO/OECD guidelines as such, is to ensure the fact that, regardless of their option for one institution or another for their studies, formation, professionalization, the student’s quality in learning outcomes and certificate will be safeguarded.