EQAR – what does the European Quality Assurance Register mean for UKÄ and Swedish higher education?

Registration on EQAR and membership in ENQA are important parts of UKÄ’s support to the internationalisation of Swedish higher education institutions and international mobility. Both EQAR and ENQA are also valuable communities for transnational cooperation and opportunities for Sweden and UKÄ to influence the development of quality assurance in the European higher education area.

Facts

  • ESG (Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area) are common European standards and guidelines for how higher education should be quality assured and for how quality assurance organisations should operate. Read more about ESG
  • EQAR (The European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education) is the official European register for quality assurance organisations that comply with the ESG. EQAR also offers information on countries within the European higher education area, on national quality assurance frameworks, and further information on quality assurance in Europe. Read more abour EQAR
  • DEQAR (Database of External Quality Assurance Results) is a database of higher education institutions and programmes that have successfully undergone external quality assurance in compliance with the ESG conducted by quality assurance agencies registered on EQAR. Read more about DEQAR
  • ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education ) is a European umbrella organisation of quality assurance agencies compliant with the ESG, with the aim to contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of European higher education, and to the development of quality assurance across the EHEA. Read more about ENQA
  • EHEA (European Higher Education Area) is an international collaboration implementing a common set of commitments to structural reforms and shared tools, whose main goal is to increase staff and student mobility, and to facilitate employability. Read more about EHEA

Early 2021, UKÄ was included on The European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR), having successfully undergone an external agency review. Together with UKÄ’s membership in ENQA, this is an aknowledgement of the agency’s compliance with the common European standards for quality assurance laid down in the ESG (Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area).

What does it mean for Swedish higher education that UKÄ is now included on EQAR? What does it imply for UKÄ and for the further development of the national framework for quality assurance? How can registration on EQAR become a driving force for the internationalisation of Swedish higher education and research? We asked Anders Söderholm, Director General, and Karin Järplid, Head of the Department of Quality Assurance, to reflect on these questions. We also spoke to Karl Dittrich, President of EQAR, and asked him to give his view on EQAR’s role, strengths and challenges, and on his hopes and expectations on Sweden and UKÄ.

Anders Söderholm, Director General of UKÄ, why is it important for Swedish higher education institutions and for the internationalisation of higher education in Sweden that UKÄ is now registered on EQAR?

- Through registration on EQAR and membership in ENQA, we are an integral part of the of the European quality assurance community, and this increases trust in our national quality assurance framework. I hope it will also be a driver for our commitment and for that of Swedish higher education institutions to quality assurance within the European Universities Initiative and other international programmes. Hopefully, our engagement in EQAR and ENQA will also enable us to step up our activities in the field of international cooperation in quality assurance.

Karin Järplid, Head of the Department of Quality Assurance, how can registration on EQAR benefit UKÄ’s quality assurance activities in the short and long term?

- The inclusion on the Register is well timed with our recently initiated further development of the national quality assurance framework, in view of the next review cycle from 2023 and onwards. EQAR’s and ENQA’s external agency reviews have provided valuable input to this process. It is important that the national quality assurance framework is well aligned with European and international development in this area, and through EQAR and ENQA, we are active partners in the elaboration and implementation of the ESG and other ongoing work in European higher education cooperation. At the same time, this strengthens our readiness to respond to the needs of higher education institutions for efficient and fit-for-purpose cross-border quality assurance, where an important task for UKÄ will be to identify and help remove national obstacles.

Karl Dittrich, President of EQAR, what would you say is the main purpose and strategic role of the Register? What are the main achievements of EQAR so far, and what are the future challenges?

- The main purpose of the Register is to strengthen the trust necessary for the growth of mobility of students and staff, and of cooperation between universities in Europe. When a quality assurance organisation such as UKÄ is included on the Register, this signals to higher education institutions and students in Sweden and abroad that UKÄ’s quality assurance complies with the ESG, and that the reviews and evaluations conducted by your agency are valid and trustworthy.

- We are confident that EQAR has indeed contributed to trust in the higher education area. However, it is sometimes a challenge that, on the one hand, we are a gatekeeper for the Register, ensuring that quality assurance organisations included are of high quality, and, on the other hand, a convinced partner in the EHEA, actively engaged in promoting transnational cooperation between higher education institutions. Sometimes these two objectives might collide. It is also important to keep in mind that the bureaucracy of quality assurance must not become a goal in itself, but that we strive to improve the quality of education as such.

- In the future, it will be crucial to reduce legal and administrative obstacles to cross-border quality assurance, and this has become particulary evident in relation to the alliances formed within the European Universities Initiative. EQAR is convinced that higher education institutions should not have to go through several national procedures, but instead benefit from a single quality assurance procedure, for instance, through the European Approach for Joint Programmes or other frameworks.

In what ways can Sweden and UKÄ contribute, Karl Dittrich?

- Sweden is a much respected partner in European and international higher education, and has always been a strong voice for an autonomous academia. I hope that Sweden and UKÄ will continue engaging in a quality enhancing and trust-based implementation of the ESG, promoting European cooperation and transnational quality assurance, and emphasising the academic and civic values of the internationalisation of higher education. Besides this, new developments like microcredentials ask for European cooperation and maybe even harmonisation.