Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are among the fundamental values of higher education. To be successful in their research and teaching missions, universities need to be able to take their own decisions. From a system point of view, it seems difficult to consider academic freedom and especially institutional autonomy without considering the role of quality assurance agencies.
The context of this article is grounded in the project of the Slovenian Quality Assurance Agency (SQAA) focusing on exploring independence of quality assurance agencies in higher education from different national and European environments.
Within this project, we developed a methodology for analysing independence of quality assurance agencies. The focus of our research relies on the five main categories of independence:
As a method of collecting the information about the independence of the quality assurance agencies we use open-ended questionnaires, based on these five main quality indicators. In the process of collecting data, we determined the scale for each criterion – 1 being the most independent, which means that none of the relevant stakeholders has a predominant influence and 4 being the least independent, meaning that relevant stakeholders have a predominant influence on the functioning of the quality assurance.
Until now, we have qualitatively and quantitatively analysed the questionnaires of 15 quality assurance agencies. 4 out of 15 agencies, which were included in the sample, are members of ENQA and 11 out of 15 agencies are not its members.
This preliminary analysis shows a great diversity of quality assurance agencies across Europe. We believe further work is needed to identify common problems, exchange examples of good practices and propose relevant solutions. Well-performing quality assurance agencies will equalize quality standards and constitute activities to fully support higher education systems and consequently fulfil expectations of teachers and students in an increasingly diversified European environment.
You can find the progress report of the project here.
The findings of our survey highlighted the need to further foster the organisations operational autonomy and autonomy of formal outcomes, especially in regards to indirect influences of the government in different processes at the quality assurance agencies.
In the second stage of the project, we plan to extend and upgrade the qualitative analysis of possible influences of external stakeholders on the work of quality assurance agencies by including wider sample quality assurance agencies from different countries.
Thank for your cooperation and support.