Academic Quality Handbook
- Full Handbook Contents
- 1 - Teaching and Learning at the University of Aberdeen: An Overview
- 2 - Quality Assurance in Higher Education: An Overview
- 3 - The Assurance and Enhancement of Academic Quality and Standards in Teaching and Learning
- 4 - Student Recruitment and Admissions
- 5 - Student Guidance and Learner Support
- 6 - Teaching and Learning Policies and Academic Administration
- 7 -Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices : Taught Courses and Programmes
- 8 - Research Students
- 9 - External Examining: Taught Courses and Programmes
- 10 - Collaborative Arrangements: Quality Assurance Procedures
- 11 - Academic Support Services and Resources
Section 2 - Quality Assurance in Higher Education: An Overview
- operates with appropriate academic standards;
- offers students learning opportunities of, at-the-least, acceptable quality.
2.1.2 To ensure that the University meets these requirements, a number of quality assurance procedures operate. Some of these are run by the University itself, whereas others involve external scrutiny. Both internal and external procedures operate according to sector-wide guidance that, in Scotland, is provided by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), working on behalf of the Scottish Executive.
Academic standards are a way of describing the level of achievement that a student has to reach to gain an academic award (for example, a degree). It should be at a similar level across the UK.
Academic quality is a way of describing how well the learning opportunities available to students help them to achieve their award. It is about making sure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning opportunities are provided for them.
Quality assurance (QA)
Quality assurance refers to a range of review procedures designed to safeguard academic standards and promote learning opportunities for students of acceptable quality.
2.1.4 There are various interpretations of what exactly constitutes acceptable quality: e.g., an institution's provision should be "fit for purpose"; should make effective use of resources; should offer its stakeholders value for money; etc… but it is increasingly agreed that it is important to promote improvement of quality, not just to ensure that quality is maintained. This shifts the emphasis from quality assurance to quality enhancement.
Quality enhancement 2 (QE)
Quality enhancement is taking deliberate steps to bring about continual improvement in the effectiveness of the learning experience of students.
- The curriculum – its structure, aims, intended learning outcomes and types of assessment;
- The promotion and support of effective learning – to include types of teaching and learning; provision of student support services, library and IT facilities; measures to involve students in monitoring and enhancing the institution's educational provision; and relevant training and development activities for staff and students.
2.2 The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) www.qaa.ac.uk
- safeguards educational standards (e.g., it ensures that students awarded a degree in a particular subject have acquired a suitably comprehensive knowledge of that subject, and its related skills, at an appropriate level of sophistication); and
- promotes the continual enhancement of the quality of teaching, learning opportunities, and related student support services.
2.2.2 The QAA is funded by subscriptions from the UK's higher education institutions (HEIs), and by the higher education funding councils, including the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), for whom it performs contract work. The QAA works closely with the higher education sector's 'stakeholders': the funding councils, universities and colleges, staff, students and employers. The QAA acts variously as a think-tank, a spokesperson, and a watchdog. It is responsible for the management of much of what is called the "academic infrastructure" – the guidelines, resources and procedures that both enable and constrain the activities of the UK's higher education institutions. Key elements of this academic infrastructure are the:
- Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education 3
- Frameworks for higher education qualifications
- Programme specifications
- Subject benchmark statements
2.2.3 Because higher education in Scotland is separately funded, and has several aspects of policy that are distinctly different to the rest of the UK, the QAA has a separate Scottish Office. This is responsible, in conjunction with SFC, for administration of the new procedures for assurance of standards and enhancement of quality: the Quality Enhancement Framework.
2.2.4 The Quality Enhancement Framework provides the backdrop to the approach taken to quality in the Scottish higher education sector. The Strategy has five main elements:
- a comprehensive programme of subject reviews that are run by institutions themselves
- Enhancement-Led Institutional Review (ELIR) which involves all Scottish higher education institutions over a five-year cycle
- public information about quality, intended to meet the needs of a range of stakeholders
- student engagement in institutional quality systems
- a national programme of enhancement themes
2.3.1 The Academic Quality Handbook sets out in detail the procedures used by the University of Aberdeen to safeguard academic standards and assure/enhance the quality of the learning opportunities it offers to its students. The various regulations and procedures set out here incorporate best practice guidelines issued by SFC and/or the QAA (in particular, the relevant sections of the Code of Practice). The first edition of the Handbook was published in 1997, the second in 2001. In 2005 the University moved to a web-only version of the Handbook to facilitate regular updates taking account of changes in good practice suggested by the HE sector or the University's own QA/QE procedures.
2.3.2 The Handbook addresses the quality of teaching and learning. It does not cover the quality of research directly, but it does detail procedures that promote the quality of the University's arrangements for the training and supervision of research students.
2.3.3 The Handbook provides the authoritative guide to the University's quality procedures. Readers who require a quick overview of the University's quality set-up, rather than detailed guidance on specific aspects of procedure, may wish to consult the Two-minute guide to quality first (Appendix 2.1).
2.5.1 SHEFC (now SFC)introduced the Quality Enhancement Framework in 2003 (see Section 3.6), which included new procedures for Enhancement-Led Institutional Review (ELIR). Further enhancements were made to the process for the start of the second round of ELIR in 2008. Application of the Quality Enhancement Framework confirms whether or not academic standards are appropriate, and that the quality of provision is (at least) satisfactory, across Scotland's HE sector, so making a more overt emphasis on quality enhancement (as opposed to quality assurance) desirable. ELIR is designed to strengthen an institution's strategic focus on quality enhancement, with an associated switch in emphasis from the delivery of quality teaching to promotion of quality learning. Specific aspects of an ELIR report comment on: 5
- the ability of the institution's internal review systems to monitor and maintain quality and standards at the level of the programme or award. This commentary leads to a judgement on the level of confidence which can reasonably be placed in the soundness of the institution's current and likely future management of the quality of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards. The expression of this judgement provides a point of tangency between the ELIR method and other review methods operating in other parts of the UK. The judgement is expressed as one of: confidence, limited confidence or no confidence;
- the institution's arrangements for ensuring that the information it publishes about the quality of its provision is complete, accurate and fair;
- the effectiveness of the institution's approach to promoting an effective learning experience for students;
- the combined effect of the institution's policies and practices for ensuring improvement in the quality of teaching and learning;
- the effectiveness of the institution's implementation of its strategy for quality enhancement;
- the institution’s approach to managing the quality of the learning experience of those students on programmes covered by collaboration arrangements.
2.5.2 The University of Aberdeen first went through ELIR in Spring 2005. Following that review the University was awarded the judgement of broad confidence by the review panel. The University will undergo ELIR again in Spring 2010.
2.5.1 The introduction of the Quality Enhancement Framework in 2003 gave institutions responsibility for conducting a comprehensive programme of subject review. In doing so, SHEFC (now SFC) recognised that Scottish HEIs had put in place robust procedures for assuring quality and standards of their provision and could be given ownership for the continuation of such procedures without the need for annual, external subject review. At the University of Aberdeen, the Internal Teaching Review procedures were aligned with the SHEFC guidance.
2.5.2 Details of the University’s Internal Teaching Review procedures are given in Section 3.
About the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
Academic Standards and Quality
Enhancement-Led Institutional Review: Scotland
Quality and Standards in UK Universities: A guide to how the system works
The University of Aberdeen's quality website includes:
Glossary of quality terms
Two-minute guide to quality at the University of Aberdeen
Past quality review reports, institution level:
University of Aberdeen, Enhancement-Led Institutional Reflective Analysis (2005 & 2010)
2 Source: Handbook for
enhancement-led institutional review: Scotland (second edition),
QAA, April 2008.