Proposal on quality assurance of research circulated for comment

Education and research are connected. Quality assurance of research should also be included in UKÄ’s HEI audits. This according to UKÄ’s report on its government assignment published today.

Anders Söderholm

Anders Söderholm, Director General of UKÄ

This is an important improvement of the quality assurance system. A stronger connection between education and research is emphasised both in policies and among higher education institutions, says Director General of UKÄ Anders Söderholm.

In July 2017, UKÄ was tasked with developing the national quality assurance system for higher education to also include research.

We’re presenting a proposal that includes several assessments and questions on which we’re now seeking views and opinions. We will soon circulate it for comments, says Anders Söderholm.

Part of HEI audits

The national quality assurance system today consists of four types of audits. UKÄ’s proposal is that quality assurance of research should be included in the audits of the internal quality assurance procedures of higher education institutions (HEIs). UKÄ’s judges that research is already sufficiently evaluated in the programme evaluations and assessments of degree-awarding powers; therefore, no changes to those components are proposed. However, questions about research may apply to thematic evaluations.

New assessment criteria will be developed that take into consideration the special conditions applicable to research. HEIs will continue to be able to have separate quality assurance systems for education and research, respectively.

However, audits of HEIs’ quality assurance processes in both areas should be simultaneous in order to enhance the connection between education and research.

The collective expertise required by the assessment panel is a matter that needs to be reviewed. Another question is whether there should be two different assessment panels – one for education and one for research.

Our goal is to have a cohesive assessment panel that reviews the quality assurance of both education and research, but this is something we need to address after this round of feedback. We also want to include more international assessors than we currently do, says Anders Söderholm.

Change in the law needed

Research at Swedish higher education institutions is currently less regulated by laws and ordinances than educational activities. Furthermore, the existing regulations only cover public HEIs. Independent higher education providers are not included. UKÄ sees a need to further explore how this issue should be handled.

We need a solution here. Our starting point is that the quality assurance system should be identical for all HEIs, possibly with some differences for the smallest institutions, says Anders Söderholm.

Closely integrated

We are now one step closer to a cohesive system for education and research. We’re breaking new ground and we have an exciting period ahead of us for developing the method.

Anders Söderholm highlights that this system further emphasises the fact that primary responsibly for quality assurance lies with the HEIs.

UKÄ’s mission is to ensure that institutions take this responsibility. This is entirely consistent with international agreements and principles, says Anders Söderholm.

Comments on the report are to be submitted by the end of June. Thereafter, the pace of developing the method will pick up considerably. Pilot audits may begin in 2019/2020. Actual audits will start in 2021 at the earliest, but the final schedule is still uncertain.

More parallel assignments

UKÄ has also reported on another assignment today. It has been tasked with developing proposals for coordinating the follow-up and evaluation of different agencies. The purpose is to gain an overview of what is being done in various areas, to identify collaboration opportunities and to minimise the risk of overlapping and repeating work.

The research bill underscores that follow-ups and evaluations are important tools for the Government’s control of research policy. The evaluations should supplement one another to provide a broad and comprehensive understanding of the quality of research. Among other things, we propose that UKÄ be tasked with formulating and coordinating a network for the agencies concerned, says Anders Söderholm.

A third assignment has been presented by the Swedish Research Council that involves developing indicators for following up the goals of research policies. UKÄ has participated in these efforts. Anders Söderholm views this as an important source of knowledge for the higher education sector and as meaningful for UKÄ’s statistical mission.

We’ve had a rewarding collaboration with the Swedish Research Council while working on all three government assignments. Moving forward, it is essential to keep this collaboration going, says Anders Söderholm.