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New report unpacks the meaning of quality in a complex and rapidly changing higher education sector

  • 17 March 2022

A new Policy Note published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and written by the Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (www.qaa.ac.uk) explores what quality means in UK higher education today.

The publication marks the start of a year of activities to mark the 25th birthday of the QAA. 

As a membership organisation for higher education providers across the whole UK, the QAA works across the different contexts of quality control, quality assurance and quality enhancement. In Defining Quality (HEPI Policy Note 33), the QAA’s Chief Executive Vicki Stott assesses the meaning of these three contexts as well as their relevance and application.

With each part of the UK having a different approach to quality assurance and quality enhancement, a common understanding of the different mechanisms at play provides context to policy debates between, as well as within, the four different jurisdictions.

Through the report, the QAA aims to begin a sector-wide conversation which will include a series of events and publications aimed at providing a forum to consider the future of quality when applied to higher education.

Vicki Stott, QAA’s Chief Executive and the author of the report, said:

We are very pleased to be collaborating with HEPI as we start a dialogue about quality.  We are of course long-standing practitioners in quality and standards, but through our membership work we know that definitions, applications and approaches to quality vary across the UK higher education sector and continue to evolve.

We hope this Policy Note starts a useful conversation which we can explore throughout our 25thanniversary year.’

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

If education is to be the great leveller and enabler that we all want it to be, then it must be high quality. But assuring and enhancing quality is easier said than done. That’s why the mission of the Quality Assurance Agency has been so important across all four parts of the UK over the past 25 years.

These days, policymakers and regulators take a close interest in quality issues, which is good to see. But it is vital that the search for solutions does not treat the avilable evidence in oversimplistic ways when determining what quality looks like. After all, when the higher education sector gets it right, it is students who benefit the most.’

Notes for Editors

  1. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. It is UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. It is funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate, as well as through events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  2. QAA is the independent quality body for UK higher education. It is a higher education charitable company, which is limited by guarantee and whose UK and international members are representative organisations of the higher education sector.
  3. Vicki Stott has been the Chief Executive of QAA since November 2021, having joined the Agency in 2019 as Executive Director of Operations and Deputy Chief Executive. She has extensive experience of the higher education sector having previously worked in a number of institutions, including St Hugh’s College Oxford, the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick. Vicki is a Board Member of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE). Further information on QAA’s 25th anniversary is available at https://www.qaa.ac.uk/news-events/news/qaa-at-25-championing-uk-quality-and-standards-for-a-quarter-of-a-century

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