Under the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015 we have to assess, or make arrangements to assess, the quality of education provided in Wales by or on behalf of each regulated institution. We do this through our quality assessment processes. We also work with Advance HE to support the higher education community in enhancing the quality of learning and teaching.
Our quality assessment responsibilities under the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015, (‘the Act’) are addressed by our Quality Assessment Committee. The Act requires us to assess, or make arrangements to assess, the quality of education provided in Wales by or on behalf of each regulated institution. Quality Assessment arrangements apply to all provision, including bilingual and Welsh medium provision. Our Procedures for assessing the quality of education provide information on how HEFCW fulfils its statutory duties relating to the quality of education.
As part of the Quality Assessment Framework for Wales, regulated institutions in Wales are required to undergo external quality assurance reviews from an organisation listed on the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education. Quality Enhancement Review has been developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education with HEFCW to meet this requirement. Further information is on the QAA website. The purpose of the review is to meet the public interest in knowing that Welsh HE provision is of appropriate academic standard and quality, against the baseline regulatory requirements. We have received confirmation from the Home Office that Quality Enhancement Review in Wales meets the Home Office requirements for educational oversight.
Under the Act, we have powers in relation to provision that is, or is likely to become, inadequate. The Act defines this as being ‘not adequate to meet the reasonable needs of those receiving the education or undertaking the course’. We currently consider the reasonable needs to have been met if a provider obtains judgements of ‘Meets requirements in the judgement categories in Quality Enhancement Review. In every case, a regulated institution receiving a ‘meets requirement with conditions’ or ‘does not meet’ outcome will be deemed to have quality which is, or is likely to become, inadequate. It will be subject to the inadequate quality interventions outlined in the Statement of Intervention.
Students and former students can also complain to HEFCW about systematic problems affecting quality and standards within their institutions. Again they must normally have completed the institution’s own procedures first.
Complaints affecting individuals can be made to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). Complaints can be about anything a provider has done or failed to do, eg regarding a programme of study, a service or a final decision of the provider’s disciplinary or appeal body. Complainants must have exhausted the institution’s own procedures first.
Working with other organisations
We work with other organisations such as the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the Charities Commission, Home Office and Awarding Bodies (where applicable) in order to fulfil our duties under the Act.
Our Memorandum of Understanding with Estyn and QAA provides a framework for working relationships between us, to ensure efficient and effective cooperation in relation to the review of higher education in Wales. It commits to avoiding duplication of effort, identifying activities of mutual interest where collaboration would benefit learners in higher education, and sharing expertise in support of continuous improvement of the quality of education.
Quality Assessment Framework
The Quality Assessment Framework for Wales assures us of the quality of education at HE providers.
The Framework was published in March 2018 and updated in April 2020 to include an additional governing body assurance statement relating to quality (circular W20/10HE).
This is supported by a set of baseline regulatory requirements, which align with those in England and Northern Ireland. Work across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in relation to degree standards inform these requirements.
The Framework builds on existing processes and is designed to minimise the burden on providers, while ensuring that the governing bodies of regulated institutions are equipped to provide assurance to HEFCW.
Cross-cutting issues across the UK include the:
- need to preserve the sense of a UK-wide quality system
- compliance with international quality expectations
- essential role of students as partners in quality.
The Quality Assessment Framework will achieve UK ‘read-across’ through the following shared mechanisms:
- Shared degree standards, through the UK-wide Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)
- A strengthened external examining system
- A shared approach to the quality-related elements of the Baseline Regulatory Requirements
- The ability of Welsh institutions to participate in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, if they wish.
The framework includes:
- regulated institutions providing annual assurance to HEFCW in relation to quality
- external assurance for institutions on the quality of provision against the baseline requirements. The QAA has also been asked to review overseas provision.
- External Quality Assurance Review (July 2019)
- External Quality Assurance Review (April 2017)
- External Quality Assurance Review – Frequently Asked Questions
- Annual review of data, student views and other information, including intelligence gathered through institutional engagement
- Triennial assurance visits by HEFCW to regulated institutions, which will include a focus on quality. These will inform Council institutional visits, other HEFCW visits and our assurance processes.
These elements of the framework will also inform the annual fee and access planning and institutional risk review processes.
We will address concerns relating to quality and standards through our procedures for handling complaints against institutions.
Gateway Quality Review
Providers in Wales who wish to apply for course designation will need to undergo a Gateway Quality Review.
From 2018/19 the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will carry out Gateway Quality Reviews on behalf of HEFCW for providers that seek course designation or that wish to apply for a fee and access plan.
The method has been published and is available on the QAA website.
Review outcomes are expressed as ‘confidence’, ‘limited confidence’ and ‘no confidence at this time’ in relation to the following judgement areas:
- The reliability of academic standards and their reasonable comparability with standards set and achieved in other providers in the UK.
- The quality of the student academic experience, including student outcomes where the provider has a track record of delivery of higher education.
Judgements of ‘Confidence’ are considered satisfactory. Judgements of ‘limited confidence’, and ‘no confidence’ are considered unsatisfactory and follow-up activity is required.
A provider that has undergone a successful Gateway Review will be deemed as meeting the quality threshold for an application for course designation.
A second successful Gateway Review four years later will enable a provider to submit the outcomes as evidence in support of a Fee and Access plan.
Further particulars are outlined in the handbook.