The Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) coordinates its different reviews

The approach of our inspection visits is changing. In the future, they will focus on the legal issues addressed in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). The results will then be used in UKÄ’s institutional reviews of the higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes.

Annika Pontén, acting head of UKÄ, and Christian Sjöstrand, head of department of legal affairs at UKÄ.Pon

Annika Pontén, acting head of UKÄ, and Christian Sjöstrand, head of department of legal affairs at UKÄ.

Now we are linking both our quality assurance system and supervision with ESG in a unique way, says Annika Pontén, acting head of UKÄ.

The new system for quality assurance of higher education, which was launched in January 2017, uses ESG as one of its points of departure. These European guidelines address some issues that are also relevant for legal certainty. When the method of the new quality assurance system was worked out, it became obvious that UKÄ’s supervision needs to be coordinated with UKÄ’s institutional reviews.

In this way, we can also make it clear that it’s an important quality issue for universities and university colleges to apply laws and regulations correctly, says Annika Pontén.

Six areas of assessment

The new assessment method is called supervision of higher education institutions (HEIs). This assessment will take place the year before the HEI has its internal quality assurance processes reviewed. The supervision of HEIs focuses on six different areas: admissions, student influence, course and programme syllabuses, course evaluations, employment and appeals and complaints. UKÄ has assessed these areas in different ways in its previous supervision.

If shortcomings in the higher education institution's supervision are discovered that have a clear link with quality, they are then referred to the assessment panel, which reviews the quality management of the higher education institution. These assessments will complement one another.

How shortcomings are handled depends on the nature of the shortcoming, says Christian Sjöstrand, head of the Department of Legal Affairs at UKÄ. We will either handle them as part of our supervision or they will be a factor in the institutional reviews. While our supervision may determine that the HEIs are following regulations with respect to course evaluations, any shortcomings in management of course evaluations may be an example of a quality issue that the assessment panel in the institutional reviews might need to look at more closely.

When supervision and quality assurance become closely aligned, can shortcomings in supervision lead to withdrawal of degree-awarding powers?

Our supervision of HEIs alone cannot lead to that, but shortcomings we discover that are referred to an assessment panel can become part of an overall assessment in the quality assurance system, Sjöstrand says.

Pilot assessment with three university colleges

Beginning in April, the University of Borås, Malmö University and Mälardalen University (these three HEIs are classified as university colleges) are being assessed in a pilot study. The reason these three university colleges are included is that they will be first in line when UKÄ begins regular institutional reviews. Supervision of HEIs will take place without site visits.

We have prepared guidelines that describe the various areas of assessments, Sjöstrand says. You can also find information there about what data and reports the HEI is to submit to UKÄ. In addition, we are going to invite the student unions to provide data with their views on how the HEI is applying the regulations.

The pilot assessment will be completed in November 2017. Then the method will be evaluated and adjustments may be made.

We are currently working on a timetable for the 2018–2022 period that will allow HEIs to see when the assessment will come up for them. We expect to be able to present the schedule in May, says Sjöstrand.

The new method has been discussed in various reference groups, including an international group.

This dialogue has been important and has given us confirmation that we can feel secure with this method, Annika Pontén says. We think the fact that we are now also coordinating the reviews regarding timing will have a positive effect on the higher education institutions and, by extension, prove beneficial to the quality of application of laws and study programmes.

Inspection visits under certain circumstances

UKÄ has previously conducted inspection visits to universities and university colleges. These are being replaced to a certain extent by the new supervision of higher education institutions, but the visits are not disappearing altogether.

We are not going to go out on the same number of site visits as in the past. Instead, future visits will focus on initiatives for specific reasons, says Christian Sjöstrand.

In the future, UKÄ will continue to handle complaints against HEIs as they are handled now.