Quality Assurance and Academic Standards

Quality Assurance and Academic Standards

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) defines partnerships and collaborative provision as ‘all learning opportunities leading or contributing to the award of academic credit or a qualification that are delivered, assessed or supported through an arrangement with one or more organisations other than the degree-awarding body’.

The key principle to which UKHEIs are expected to adhere is that ‘the degree-awarding body has ultimate responsibility for academic standards and the quality of learning opportunities, regardless of where these opportunities are delivered and who provides them’.


The University is required to have a formal, legally binding Agreement (contract) in place before any student-related partnership can commence. Such Agreements must be signed on behalf of the University Court by its authorised signatories (namely by the University Secretary or authorised delegate, by another member of Court, and by a witness), as well as by the authorised signatories of the partner.

Agreements relating to research students require the additional signatures of the students and supervisors from both institutions on an official appendix (Side Letter) to the Agreement. A fully executed original copy of all Agreements will be held centrally by Research & Innovation. Copies will be distributed to the School, Registry and SRAS.

Once an Agreement is signed, partnerships will be listed in the University’s ‘Register of Partnerships and Collaborative Provision’, which is available to the public.

All Agreements for student-related partnerships have a maximum duration of 5 years, after which the Agreement expires unless a formal proposal to renew the partnership is submitted. Agreements that have not yet expired may be terminated provided that the agreed period of notice is given (normally 6 months). In addition, the University may terminate an Agreement for any significant breach of the terms of the Agreement. Any decision to terminate an Agreement will be subject to satisfactory arrangements being made by the University for existing students to complete their programme and be assessed for the award for which they registered. Such arrangements will be determined between the University and the partner.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)

Where Aberdeen and another institution intend to collaborate, the intention may be recognised initially through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). An MoU is not a legally enforceable document and can be used solely to outline the intentions of the parties to reach a formal agreement at a later date. It is not an Aberdeen or a UK requirement that an MoU is put in place, though in some countries an MoU is required before progressing to an Agreement.

It is important to note that no student-related partnership is permitted to commence on the basis of an MoU alone. Partner institutions must be made aware of this in writing before an MoU is signed. An MoU states explicitly that it is a non-legally binding document. Template MOUs are being developed and will be available shortly. In most cases MOUs will be signed by the University Secretary. A signed master copy of all MoUs will be held centrally by Research & Innovation.

Where a signed MoU is in place with a partner, student-related partnerships are not then allowed to progress until a formal proposal is submitted.

The Student Experience

A fundamental principal of all UoA student-related partnerships is that students enrolled on such programmes should not be at a disadvantage to or have an advantage over students who are enrolled on the University’s non-partnership programmes. Students on partnership programmes – wherever the programmes are based and however and by whomever the programmes are delivered and supported – shall therefore be subject to the same rules and regulations and have the same rights and responsibilities as are students enrolled on non-partnership programmes.

It is important to note that the University of Aberdeen remains responsible for students if a partnership fails – for whatever reason – and is responsible for protecting the interests of students involved in a partnership so that they are able to complete their programme. Schools must therefore provide evidence of how they will continue to teach, supervise and support students on partnership programmes that fail or are terminated.

Quality and Standards

In all cases, Aberdeen remains ultimately responsible for the quality and standards of its partnerships and partnership programmes, wherever, however and by whomever they are delivered and supported. Quality assurance and academic standards for all student-related partnerships must be at least as rigorous as those for the University’s non-partnership provision and should accord with the University’s policies, procedures and guidelines, must meet the expectations of the QAA Quality Code and must align appropriately with the SCQF in terms of level and amount of credit. It is therefore essential that all partners understand and agree to the University’s requirements and those in force within the UK.

For all major partnerships and any partnerships involving in-country delivery of part or all of a programme (either by the University of Aberdeen or by partner staff), proposers and/or prospective partners will be required to submit documentation to the QAC in order that the University can be assured of the standards, quality assurance and enhancement procedures in force at the proposed partner, any in-country legislation that might have an impact on the University’s provision (including legislation regarding equality and diversity, student representation, and appeals and complaints) and of the partner’s legal authority to enter in to such an arrangement, before any proposal is given final approval.

Except for Joint Degrees, all partnerships will be governed by the same regulations, policies and procedures as those for non-partnership programmes, including but not limited to those for admission, review (eg monitoring and review); student evaluation (eg Course Feedback forms; Staff–Student Liaison Committees; Student Representatives); course and programme approval; Postgraduate Structured Management Framework; assessment and external examining; monitoring and progression; and appeals, complaints and discipline. It should be noted that for Double/Dual Degrees, students are subject to the regulations, policies and procedures of both partners.

Where Joint Degrees are established, Aberdeen and the partner shall agree the regulations and quality assurance procedures that shall apply to the Joint Degree programme (which will require the approval of the Quality Assurance Committee, University Committee on Teaching and Learning and Senate) and these shall be specified in the Agreement document and published for students.

Aberdeen retains ultimate responsibility for the conduct of all assessments and examinations (including the setting of examinations and marking) and for the appointment, briefing, functions and payment of external examiners. For Double, Dual, Distance and Split-Site Degrees it is especially important that none of the examiners acting for Aberdeen should be staff of, or appointed by, the partner. In the case of Joint Degrees, it is practical for internal and external examiners to act for both institutions but these will still need to be approved through Aberdeen’s agreed procedures.

Award Certificates and Transcripts

All award certificates and transcripts must clearly articulate the nature of any partnership. The requirements relating to certificates and transcripts will be detailed in the Agreement. In most cases the certificate is required to record the nature of the collaboration, the name of the partner and the country in which the partner is based; in addition to this the transcript will record which parts of the programme have been delivered by Aberdeen, which parts by the partner and the primary language of instruction at the partner.

For Joint Degrees, the certificates and transcripts shall be in a format agreed by both partners. Normally, the certificate shall include the names and crests and signatures of the senior officers of both institutions. Other than for Joint Degrees, Aberdeen retains sole responsibility for the certificates and transcripts relating to its awards.

Professional and Statutory Bodies

Schools are responsible for informing any professional or statutory body (PSB) that has approved, recognised or accredited a programme of any possible or actual student-related partnership, and for ensuring that the status of the programme with reference to PSB accreditation is made clear to prospective students.

Schools should also ensure that any change in an existing partnership is reported to the relevant PSB as soon as possible to ensure fulfilment of professional or statutory accreditation requirements.

Admission, Registration and Statutory Reporting

All students on partnership programmes must be registered in such a way that the partnership and related ‘student load’ is clear and accurate in any statutory reports (for example to the Higher Education Statistical Agency, HESA).

It is therefore important that students are not admitted to partnership programmes other than through the agreed routes and following the agreed procedures, and the Student Information Systems team within Registry should be consulted accordingly as follows: email studentrecords@abdn.ac.uk or phone +44 (0) 1224 27 3580.

Information Provided to Students

Provision of information for students on partnership programmes, whether or not the students are on-campus, should be planned, delivered and monitored as rigorously as is that for students on non-partnership programmes. As well as being provided with the information that would be provided to students on non-partnership programmes, all students on partnership programmes should be provided with additional information that clearly explains the nature of their relationship with the University and which partner is responsible for which part of their learning experience. Responsibility for this lies with the School.

Information given by the partner to students and prospective students on partnership programmes must be monitored regularly by the University to ensure that it is accurate, complete and up-to-date. Responsibility for this lies with the School.

Public Information, Publicity and Marketing

In order to ensure that there is no opportunity for misunderstanding about the nature and standing of the programmes and awards provided under a particular partnership, partners must agree that the name and logo of the University of Aberdeen shall only be associated with the programmes that are detailed in the Agreement and should not be associated with the partner in any other connection.

All publications and materials that are the subject of partnership should be presented to the University for formal approval before they are published or used. Publicity may not take place until the Agreement has been signed.

Financial Considerations

All proposed partnerships must be fully costed (including overheads) and accounted for accurately and fully. Adequate safeguards must be in place against financial or other irregularities that might compromise academic standards or the quality of learning opportunities.

The approval of any partnership may not be influenced by the business and financial case alone, and the academic merit of all partnerships must be considered separately. It is also important to note that the receipt or existence of funding or income to support the partnership does not replace the need for the partnership to be approved through the University’s procedure.

Key Documentation, Policies and Guidance