On Friday 30th May the results of the consultation: ‘How should the UK’s transnational education (TNE) be quality assured in the future?’ were published.
Despite the QAA’s Chief Executive Anthony McClaren’s claim that “the responses to the consultation have given us a clear direction for the way forward” there remain a number of unanswered questions that an implementation group will now have to resolve.
Will TNE review be part of institutional review (i.e. ‘Higher Education Review’ (HER)) or a separate process?
As stated in the consultation report, ‘one of the important recurring themes (in the responses made) (was) that institutional review should be the process that quality assures TNE… with no need for a separate TNE process’. However, the QAA designed the new HER method on the basis that there would in fact be a separate process: which is it to be? One of the ‘fixed principles’ for the new method is that TNE and institutional review should be ‘complementary and closely aligned’. It is left to the Implementation Group to establish the precise relationship.
Is the new ‘risk-based’ approach to QA starting to unravel?
HER introduced a new risk-based approach to institutional review this year. Although review methods have always involved sampling, the further (cost-saving) step seeks to limit the scope of review methods by effectively signing-off elements of the review via a preliminary desk-based analysis of key data and contextual documentation. The early judgement of ‘risk’, prior to any visit, is based on the provider’s track record and the scale of their provision. Although this approach is to be extended to TNE, the term ‘risk-based’ is noted in the consultation report as having negative connotations: ‘unhelpful… through negatively influencing external perceptions of the TNE that is subject to the quality assurance process’.
As I mentioned in a previous post on HER (‘Thoughts on the Quality Assurance Review Method’), any desk-based analysis carries an element of risk itself, as a judgement will be made without visiting the institution. Depending on the transparency of the final process, there may be the potential for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests asking how the judgement has been reached.
What might an ‘improved database’, involving HESA data-reporting requirements, include?
Is this another nail in the coffin for the intention to reduce information reporting requirements on HEIs?
Is the suggestion (paragraph 20 of the consultation report) of combining overseas visits by country/geographic area not simply replicating the current ‘review of overseas provision’ method?
How is the strengthening of quality assurance of TNE to be funded?
Further thought will be given to the funding implications of operating a separate TNE process. This is said to be a secondary issue but I imagine many institutions would want to understand the likely scale of any increase in the subscriber fee.
The Implementation Group’s detailed work on the review method will now go ahead, although there is no indication yet of the timescale they will be working to. The QAA will, however publish some detailed guidance on aspects of TNE, starting with joint/double degrees in January 2015.