25 October 2021

Revising our external quality assurance review requirements

HEFCW is again looking for your views, this time on changes to the requirements for institutional external quality assurance reviews.

Regulated institutions in Wales must undergo external quality assurance reviews, and Quality Enhancement Reviews have been developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) with us to meet this requirement. These reviews assure HEFCW, students, and the public that Welsh higher education is of appropriate academic standard and quality.

Our consultation on the revision of external quality assurance review requirements sets out the proposed changes in detail, but here we highlight those relating to timing, data and intelligence sharing, and enhancement and links with the other devolved nations.  

One of the impacts of the pandemic has been that a number of planned reviews were deferred. This means that in the last year of the current cycle (bearing in mind that we have a rolling programme of reviews, and therefore the methodology can be updated when necessary), five institutions are undergoing a Quality Enhancement Review. 

We have been clear that we intend to fund future external quality assurance reviews for regulated institutions, subject to any decisions made by the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER) – HEFCW’s successor body from 2023 – in due course. In doing this, it helps us to have a relatively even funding profile, which means we want to change the timings of reviews to spread them evenly over the cycle. 

We are also proposing having a five year interval in between reviews, which will include a fallow year in which no reviews will be carried out. This will enable us to align with Scotland and Northern Ireland, as we are keen to explore a three nations approach to quality enhancement. Some activity will be common across the nations, enabling learning from each other, with additional quality enhancement activities being carried out on a pan-Wales basis. This will go hand in hand with an increased focus on quality enhancement within the review.

We propose to improve our sharing of intelligence with QAA, to make the link between the external quality assurance review and HEFCW processes clearer. The review will continue to serve an assurance function, so we propose to retain the current assurance judgements. However, there will also be greater consideration of contextualised data, recognising the impact of the pandemic on trends.

We also want to reduce the burden for institutions by replacing documents previously produced specifically for the review with internal documents. This means that institutions may need to adapt their current processes and reports to ensure that the documents meet both purposes, but should mean that no documents are required specifically for the review. 

Finally, we propose to make it clear that the review team may include an international member, particularly where an institution identifies that it is world leading in particular areas. This will enable institutions to demonstrate and verify excellence.

Once the consultation is over, we will ask QAA to run workshops with institutional representatives, reviewers and student representatives to determine how the changes can best be implemented. This means that the new method will be very much sector-informed, to ensure that the approach is fit for purpose. Changes will then take effect from 2023/24, by which time the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research should have been established.

By considering now how we can bring our review method up to date, we are hoping to lay the ground for a smooth transition into the new regime with minimal disruption both to institutions individually, and to the overarching reputational assurance of quality which external review provides.

We would very much welcome your input into this process so if you have any thoughts, please respond to the consultation!

Dr Cliona O’Neill, Head of Student Experience