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Where do we go from here? Quality assurance in English higher education

  • 16 February 2023
  • By Andrew M Boggs

After March 2023, the UK-wide Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will stop being the Designated Quality Body for English higher education, as the QAA wants to avoid losing its registration with the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).

A new paper from the Higher Education Policy Institute, Where do we go from here? Quality assurance in English higher education (Policy Note 44) by Andrew M Boggs, Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies and University Clerk at Kingston University, considers the consequences.

Andrew M Boggs, the author of the report, said:

There is growing concern that key elements of the Higher Education and Research Act are not being faithfully executed. Yet these elements helped assure the public that we would have a coherent and appropriate approach to quality and standards, protecting student interests and institutional autonomy in England, and this was one of the hallmarks of the UK’s world-leading higher education sector. This should be of concern to parliamentarians.

The increased separation between England and the rest of the UK on regulation of quality and standards in higher education is likely to damage the international reputation of higher education throughout the UK. This risks one of our greatest exports at a time when the UK needs to capitalise on where it has global strength.

Nick Hillman, Director the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

There is literally nothing more important to our higher education sector than the maintenance of quality. Without secure knowledge about the quality of what is on offer, students will stop coming here from all over the world and employers will not know whether they can trust UK degrees.

There is widespread alarm in universities that, at the end of next month, the Quality Assurance Agency – which has been the official protector of quality for over 25 years – will cease to be the Designated Quality Body for England. No one yet knows what, if anything, will take its place.

A reputation for quality takes time to grow and will dissipate slowly, so there is no immediate crisis. But we do need an action plan that either allows the QAA to revert to its old status or appoints someone else to do the job.

We also need to know if the threats of new student number caps for degree courses that fall out of favour with politicians – which were first made a year ago in February 2022 – will now be seen through or, more sensibly, rejected.

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, and it is funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions as well as through events.
  2. On 8 February 2023, the Government opened a consultation on the de-designation of the QAA as the Designated Quality Body in England. This can be found here. The consultation on student number controls, which lasted from February to May 2022, is here.
  3. Other recent HEPI output on quality issues includes:

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