Institutional reviews of HEIs’ quality assurance processes for research

Since 2017, UKÄ's mission has been expanded to include quality assurance of research in addition to quality assurance of higher education.

The review is part of the component “Institutional review of the HEIs’ quality assurance processes”, which is one of four components within the national system for quality assurance of higher education and research. The focus of the component is on how the HEIs ensure and develop the quality of education and research.

Revised method after pilot review

Assessment criteria for quality assurance and quality development of research have been tested in a pilot that ended in October 2020. A positive result from the pilot review was that the assessment criteria worked well to capture how the HEIs work with quality assurance and quality development of research.

However, the pilot review also showed challenges, for example that there were overlaps between the assessment areas. Some of the assessment criteria were also perceived as difficult to understand by both the HEIs and the assessment groups. Similar criticisms, especially regarding overlaps within and between components, have also been made in the two external audits that UKÄ underwent in 2020. In order to address the difficulties, the review method has now been revised.

Two assessment areas instead of five

The most noticeable change is that there are now two instead of five assessment areas. The purpose of reducing the number of assessment areas is to reduce the risk of overlaps. The most significant overlaps in the component have been found between the assessment areas "Governance and organisation" and the assessment area "Design, implementation and outcomes". Therefore, the two assessment areas have been merged and they now form a new assessment area called "Governance, organisation and implementation".

In addition, assessment criteria for gender equality and collaboration, instead of constituting separate assessment areas, have been included in the assessment area "Preconditions". For the two assessment areas, new descriptive texts have been produced with guiding questions and examples in order to make it easier for the HEIs to describe and evaluate how they work to ensure and develop the quality of the research.

- We hope through the changes to come to terms with the overlaps we identified through the pilot and which made the review unnecessarily cumbersome and extensive, says Kristina Tegler Jerselius.

Another change that has been implemented is that the assessment criteria have been reformulated. The purpose of the rewording is to make them clearer and easier to understand.

- The changes look more radical than they are, says Kristina Tegler Jerselius. Even if the form has been adapted after the pilot review, especially in terms of the number of assessment areas, the core of the review remains. We are still reviewing the HEIs' quality assurance processes and how they function in practice with a focus on some selected themes, for example how the HEI works with competence development and career support for researchers. However, through the changes, we hope to be more precise.

Background to the revised guide

  • In 2017, UKÄ's mandate was expanded to, in addition to quality assurance of education, also include quality assurance of research. The expanded assignment has resulted in extensive method development work at UKÄ.
  • Principles for the new review were set out in a report that was sent out for consultation in the sector in April 2018. One of the conclusions in the report was that there was a lack of a national framework for quality assurance and quality enhancement of research; that such a framework should be developed and that the HEIs themselves were judged to be most suitable for developing the framework.
  • The proposal to develop a national framework for research was widely supported in the sector and development work was initiated by SUHF's quality group. One year later, in May 2019, SUHF's Federal Assembly made a decision on a common framework for quality assurance and quality enhancement of research.
  • In parallel, an in-depth investigation was made at UKÄ of the comments received through the consultation procedure and relevant review topics were identified. Based on these review themes and SUHF's framework, assessment criteria were formulated which were then tested in a pilot review.
  • Three HEIs participated in a pilot review that was carried out during the period September 2019 - October 2020, when a decision was made on the pilot HEIs' quality assurance processes for research.
  • Based on the lessons learned from the pilot review, UKÄ saw a need to reduce the level of detail in the review and to more clearly refine the various parts in order to reduce the risk of overlaps.
  • The work has led to the revised “Guidelines for reviewing the HEIs’ quality assurance processes for research”.