QAA back on European quality assurance register after suspension

Lifting of suspension follows agency decision to relinquish role in monitoring standards in England

August 10, 2022
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The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has been re-registered on the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR), following a period of suspension.

The EQAR lifted on 10 August the temporary suspension of the QAA, which plays a role in assessing higher education providers in the UK and internationally.

Three weeks ago, the QAA announced that it would relinquish its role as the “designated quality body” (DQB) for England, amid concern about some elements of the function not complying with the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG).

The QAA said that it would publish all DQB reports and include a student on every DQB team in order to comply with the ESG, before relinquishing the role at the end of March 2023.

More broadly, the QAA has explained that the regulatory system in England has moved away from compliance-based structures to risk-based structures under the leadership of the Office for Students (OfS), the sector regulator, and although the European system may eventually move in a similar direction, it is further behind in this process, hence the two systems being at odds.

Vicki Stott, the QAA’s chief executive, had previously described retaining EQAR registration as her organisation’s “top priority”.

“Remaining registered with EQAR is essential to QAA’s work throughout the UK and internationally,” she said.

“We are therefore very pleased to see the suspension lifted as a result of the action we have taken, and grateful to EQAR for responding quickly.” 

The QAA’s relinquishment of its four-year-long role in the English system had evoked worry within the sector, particularly about a loss of expertise and credibility. Paul Ashwin, who researches higher education at Lancaster University, said that it raised “fundamental questions” about whether the OfS could continue with its new strategy for regulation.

The QAA and OfS have endured a difficult relationship since the regulator was created – despite a renewed focus in improving quality.

And while the QAA has developed a membership offering for institutions separate from its regulatory functions, there have still been concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

The DQB function was created under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, and the OfS has said that it will consider “whether there is another body that could be designated when the QAA’s role comes to an end”.

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