Quality Enhancement Framework for Higher Education in Iceland

The role of the Quality Board for Icelandic Higher Education, which was established in 2010 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, is to administer the development of a Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF) for the higher education sector in Iceland. In undertaking this work, the Board has worked closely with the Icelandic Quality Council for Higher Education, also established by the Ministry. In addition, informal discussions have been held individually with all the higher education institutions and with a range of other bodies and individuals associated with higher education in Iceland. The QEF is therefore firmly rooted in Icelandic higher education. Its design has also benefitted from drawing on European and wider international experience and expertise, and the framework is positioned at the forefront of international development.

Quality Enhancement Framework Handbook, 2nd, Ed.

QEF Cornerstones

The Quality Enchancement Framework has five cornerstones:

1. Ownership of quality and standards

Ultimately, it is only through the actions and practices of the universities and higher education institutions in Iceland that the quality of the student learning experience and standards of their awards can be assured and enhanced. The Quality Board for Icelandic Higher Education therefore views its prime purpose as being the support of the autonomous Icelandic higher education institutions in their management of quality and standards. Demonstrating that the most zealous guardians of quality and standards are the autonomous higher education institutions themselves - individually and collectively - will be one of the key indicators of success of the QEF.

2. Enhancing the quality of the student learning experience and safeguarding standards

One of the hallmarks of good academic practice is the constant quest for better understanding. That is obviously true in the context of research. It is equally applicable to managing teaching and learning. We are always trying to improve our understanding of the learning processes in higher education and thereby develop more effective ways in which we can manage the experience of our students. The Quality Enhancement Framework in Iceland has therefore been developed to support the institutions, not simply in the basic assurance of quality, but in the continuing enhancement of the learning experience of all students whom they serve. Enhancing the learning experience of students and safeguarding the standards of their degrees and other awards are the ultimate targets of the Quality Enhancement Framework.

3. Involvement of students

A defining feature of higher education in all its richness and diversity is its relationship with the boundaries of knowledge. Students, through their higher education experience, discover how knowledge and professional practice have been created and continue to evolve. Students become actively involved in knowledge creation rather than simply being passive recipients of 'facts' that they are required to repeat on demand at assessment. This provides graduates with the basis for continuing to learn and develop throughout life. Factual knowledge can quickly become obsolete: understanding lays the basis for reformulation, adaptation and continuation of learning throughout life. The nature of learning in higher education therefore fundamentally involves students as partners in the learning process and it is the effectiveness of their learning in which we are fundamentally interested. Given the centrality of this partnership, it is important to involve students also within our quality framework as active participants in the assurance and enhancement of their learning. Students are not simply the objects of the QEF, they are intrinsically partners within the endeavor. It is important to be very clear that along with partnership come significant responsibilities. It is vital that students recognize and fulfill their roles as effective and active participants in the learning process.

4. International and Icelandic perspectives

International and Icelandic perspectives. Higher education is international. Research and scholarship do not observe national boundaries. Increasingly, managing learning is an international activity with web applications and other distance learning technologies developing rapidly. In European terms, the Bologna process is of growing importance. It is important that higher education in Iceland relates positively to this range of European and wider international communities and benchmarks. However, higher education also has vitally important national functions to fulfill and national and local populations to serve. The Quality Enhancement Framework has been developed to balance international perspectives and benchmarks with the specificity of the Icelandic context.

5. Independence and partnership

Independence and partnership. It is vital that the management of the quality framework is, and is seen to be, fully independent. It is also important, however, that the various stakeholders work in partnership within the quality system. Reference is made above to the important role of autonomous institutions and of students within the quality partnership. Equally, governments, professional bodies and employers have legitimate roles to play. The Quality Enhancement Framework has been designed to recognize the very important role of the various partners. However, it is also vitally important that in the implementation of the parts of the quality framework for which it is directly responsible, the Quality Board is able to act with complete independence. These parts of the quality system must be managed absolutely independently of any vested interest or instrument of control. The Quality Enhancement Framework for Iceland has therefore been developed to encompass, as appropriate, both partnership working and independence of action.

QEF Main Elements

The Quality Enchancement Framework has six main elements:

1. Institution-led reviews at subject level

All institutions will be required to conduct regular internal reviews covering each of their subject areas as well as all support services having a bearing on the student learning experience (e.g. library, IT, laboratories, counselling and guidance, registry, human resources etc). These reviews may be organized in ways most appropriate to each institution, but will be required to meet the criteria outlined in Section 3 below.  The Board will appoint an external subject expert to participate in each review. Each review will lead to a formal report that will be made available to the Board. The link between institution-led reviews at the subject level and accreditation is explained fully in

 Section 7 in the Quality Enchancement Handbook and Section 3 provides full information on institution-led reviews at the subject level.

2. Quality Board-led reviews at institutional level

All institutions will receive an institution-level review, normally once every five years. This review will focus on the effectiveness of the institution's arrangements for managing the assurance and enhancement of the student learning experience and for safeguarding the standards of their awards. Essentially, these reviews will be asking the institutions to demonstrate in an evidenced way how they know the learning experience of their students is as good as it could be by Icelandic and international standards, and how they assure themselves that the standards of their awards are comparable nationally and internationally. An important part of the evidence for these reviews will be the reports of the institution-led reviews at the subject level referred to above. Following the Quality Board-led reviews at the institutional level, the Board will publish a report that will include a judgment on the confidence that can be held in the institution's ability to manage its quality and standards. This judgement will also relate to the continuing 'accreditation status' of the institution. Section 4 in the Quality Enchancement Handbook provides full details on the Quality Board-led reviews at the institutional level.

3. Annual meetings with representative(s) of the Quality Board

All institutions will have an annual meeting with representative(s) of the Board accompanied by the Board secretary. This meeting will facilitate the free exchange and updating of information between the Board and each institution, and allow the Board to maintain a current appreciation of the developments and challenges within each institution. The outcomes of institution-led reviews will be shared at these meetings together with discussions of progress made in taking forward the outcomes of previous Quality Board-led institutional reviews. Section 5 in the Quality Enhancement Handbook provides full details on the annual meetings.

4. Quality Council-led enhancement workshops and conferences

A key element in the QEF is the series of workshops and conferences that will be sponsored by the Quality Council. These activities will focus on areas that are identified as being of concern to the higher education sector in Iceland, and will be designed to stimulate the thinking of academics and other higher education practitioners throughout the sector. They will draw on national and international good and interesting practice and, where appropriate, will result in published reports, normally on a specially developed website. In some cases, these workshops and conferences may lead to the production of a set of guidelines in relation to aspects of quality assurance and enhancement related to the QEF. Section 8 in the Quality Enhancement Handbook provides further information on the Quality Council-led enhancement workshops and conferences.

5. Special Quality Board-led reviews

There are a small number of circumstances in which the Board may establish special reviews. In some circumstances an institution may wish to invite the Board to conduct a review of some aspect of its provision. There may be circumstances in which the Ministry may wish to commission the Board to conduct a special independent review, for example of an aspect of provision across the whole sector. There may also be circumstances where the Board itself becomes aware of a legitimate cause for concern in relation to some aspect of higher education provision. In these circumstances, the Board itself may wish to establish a special review. In general, it will be for the Board to decide whether it is appropriate to undertake any particular special review. Section 6  in the Quality Enhancement Handbook provides full details of Special Quality Board-led reviews.

6. Continuing and additional accreditation

It is intended that the accreditation process will be fully integrated within the comprehensive QEF and much progress has been made in this direction. The proposed arrangements for accreditation are included in the Handbook for completeness. At this stage, however, this is an outline of the proposed direction of travel. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture will be coming to a final view on these matters during the lifetime of this edition of the Handbook. In the meantime existing accreditations will remain live and applications for additional accreditations should continue to be made to the Ministry. Section 7 in the Quality Enchancement Handbook provides full details on continuing and additional accreditation.

Secretariat

The QEF secretariat (for both the Quality Board and the Quality Council) is provided by Rannis which is independent of the Government. The secretariat will provide a single point of entry for all enquiries related to the QEF. It provides support for all meetings and events sponsored by the Board and Council. In addition it drafts background papers and reports as required in support of the effective operation of the two bodies (cf. Section 1 in the Quality Enhancement Handbook). Please keep in touch about anything concerning the QEF. The Quality Enhancement Handbook outlines the formal feedback mechanisms. However, we would be very pleased to receive feedback and comments at any time. This can most easily be provided through the secretariat at  qef@rannis.is.

The secretariat is responsible for keeping and making publicly available minutes of the meetings of the Quality Board.

Minutes of Quality Board meetings:

Institutional Reviews

One of the elements within the Quality Enhancement Framework for Icelandic higher education is the Quality Board-led reviews at the institutional level. The first cycle of these reviews will span the period 2011-2016. Reviews will be carried out during the first four of these years with the final year of the cycle (2015-2016) being a year of reflection and preparations for the following period.

Statistics

Statistics Iceland is the centre for official statistics in Iceland and collects, processes and disseminates data on the economy and society, including higher education. For statistics on education in general, please click here, and for statistics on higher education in particular, please click here.

Accreditation

The Minister of Education, Science and Culture grants accreditation to higher education Institutions which qualify for the prerequisites of the Higher Education Institution Act (No. 63 from 2006). Accreditation is limited to particular fields of study and any subdivisions therein. A higher education institution can only operate within accredited fields of study. It is intended that the accreditation process will be fully integrated within the comprehensive QEF and much progress has been made in this direction (cf. Section 7 on continuing and additional accreditation in the Quality Enhancement Handbook). The proposed arrangements for accreditation are included in the Handbook for completeness. At this stage, however, this is an outline of the proposed direction of travel. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture will be coming to a final view on these matters during the lifetime of this edition of the Handbook. In the meantime existing accreditations will remain live and applications for additional accreditations should continue to be made to the Ministry. Previous accreditation reports and follow-up reports can be found here .








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