Donna Bell and Peter Cullen
Globalisation defined as the increasing flow of technology, finance, trade, knowledge, people, values, and ideas across borders (Knight & de Wit, 1997) is a word that attempts to capture the trend towards increasing levels of interaction and interdependence between organisations and between countries. The internationalisation of higher education is a reflection of this trend. Globalisation is changing the demands that are being made on higher education systems and internationalisation of higher education is a necessary part of the response to those demands. The focus of this review is on those obstacles at the policy level which have to do with recognition of qualifications and the credibility of quality assurance systems. Section 2 sketches a review of the some of literature on the supply of and demand for internationalisation. Section 3 outlines international responses to recognition and quality assurance issues. Sections 4 and 5 review developments in Europe and Ireland respectively. Section 6 considers the impact on diversity and autonomy (institutional and national). The main conclusion is that at the policy level particularly in the European Union instruments are now in place to support the internationalisation of higher education but what is lacking is practical experience and know-how in using those instruments consistently which are in the early stages of implementation at the national level and institutional level.
Globalisation defined as the increasing flow of technology, finance, trade, knowledge, people, values, and ideas across borders (Knight & de Wit, 1997) is a word that attempts to capture the trend towards increasing levels of interaction and interdependence between organisations and between countries. The internationalisation of higher education is a reflection of this trend. Globalisation is changing the demands that are being made on higher education systems and internationalisation of higher education is a necessary part of the response to those demands.
These changing demands take various forms – increasing numbers seeking third level qualifications – increasing stress on knowledge and third-level research productivity – increasing interest from students/teachers in opportunities for periods of study/practice abroad – increasing accountability.
We define internationalisation of higher education to be the trend towards increasing interaction and interdependence be-tween higher education systems. Internationalisation is manifested at the programme level (collaborative provision and joint degrees, cross border provision, joint research, franchising, branch campuses, e-learning etc.), at the individual level (staff and student exchange, knowledge flows, etc.) and affects provision in general because programmes can be positively affected by the involvement of exchange students and/or visiting professors and especially by wider access to educational resources. Internationalisation can help to (i) develop individual skills and build international teams (ii) facilitate cross-border knowledge exchange, (iii) enhance innovation capacity, (iv) improve educational quality, (v) increase efficiency and (vi) promote social cohesion.
In 2003 the International Association of Universities published a survey entitled ‘Internationalization of Higher Education – Practices and Priorities’ presenting an institutional perspective. Among the ‘key messages’ identified in that survey are the following:
‘Mobility of students and teachers is considered to be the most important reason for making internationalization a priority and is identified as the fastest growing aspect of internationalization.’
‘Brain drain and the loss of cultural identity are seen as the greatest risks of internationalization.’
‘Student, staff and teacher development; academic standards and quality assurance; and international research collaboration are ranked as the three most important benefits of internationalization.’
‘Issues requiring attention include development cooperation, quality assurance/accreditation, funding, and research cooperation.’
Evidently, individual mobility is necessary for internationalisation: in the words of UNESCO
‘… higher education increasingly has an international dimension, owing to the rapid expansion and internationalization of knowledge and to the links and solidarity established within the scientific and university community, and that wider access to educational resources world-wide through greater mobility for students, researchers, teachers and specialists is essential to this international dimension’ (UNESCO 1993)
but obstacles to mobility exist. The focus of this review is on those obstacles at the policy level which have to do with recognition of qualifications and the credibility of quality assurance systems. The actual performance of higher education providers will not be analysed in any detail in this paper—the emphasis is on policy.
Recognition of qualifications is challenging partly because of the different forms and cultures that weakly interacting or non-interacting higher education systems have evolved into over many years. Fortunately, many countries and regions are rising to the challenges and we shall see that significant progress is being made especially in the European region.
In Section 2 we sketch a review of the some of literature on the supply of and demand for internationalisation. In Section 3 we outline international responses to recognition and quality assurance issues. In Sections 4 and 5 we review developments in Europe and Ireland respectively. In Section 6 we consider the impact on diversity and autonomy (institutional and national). Finally in Section 7 we draw some broad conclusions.
2 Supply and demand for internationalisation
According to McGaw the causes of internationalisation on the supply side include ‘international relations’ (for example the Fulbright Programme and Erasmus Programme) and ‘financial’ factors (national and institutional) and on the demand side they include ‘individual needs’ (primary), ‘national needs’ and ‘increased accessibility’.
Hatakenaka (2004) identified five main trends relating to internationalisation of higher education: increased student mobility; increased staff mobility; transnational provision; increased demand for professional subjects; and international collaboration in research.
The development of competencies to enable graduates to deal with the complexities of a globalised environment is held by some to be a compelling argument for the internationalisation of higher education (Meiras, 2004).
In this section we will explore a selection of the issues.
Mobile students may enrol on a programme in a foreign host country leading to a degree or spend a period of study there for the purpose of gaining academic credit towards a qualification from an institution in their home country or (increasingly) towards an international joint degree.
In 2003 there were 2.05 million foreign students in OECD countries which is 14% higher than in 2002 and 36% higher than in 2001 when there were 1.5 million or 5% of total enrolments (OECD 2003).
The top five destinations for foreign students in 2003 were US, UK, Germany, France, Australia (OECD).
Demand for international higher education has been forecast by IDP to exceed 7 million students by 2025 (IDP, 2002).
The Vision 2020 study forecast that ‘global demand for international student places in English speaking destination countries is likely to increase from the current (2004) 1 million to 2.6 million by 2020’.
Recruitment of third-level researchers (graduate students, post doctoral researchers and faculty) in fields such as science and technology is increasingly internationalised owing to the competitive nature of funding schemes and the consequent need to access the best available minds. Such knowledge workers are recognised as being of great economic significance for example consider one of the Lisbon objectives (European Council March 2000) : ‘take steps to remove obstacles to the mobility of researchers in Europe by 2002 and to attract and retain high-quality research talent in Europe’.
Exchange programmes, active promotion of a country’s higher education sector abroad together with an easing of the relevant visa and immigration regulations are among the strategies used to attract talented people to the host country’s knowledge economy (OECD, 2004).
One example of an exchange programme is the Fulbright Program which is the U.S. government's program in international educational exchange. It was established in law in 1946 and is for scholars and postgraduate students. Another example is the Erasmus Programme (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) which is the higher education Action of SOCRATES II programme.
Mobility can provide greater diversity of routes into higher education and thereby contribute to combating access and equity problems.
While evidence suggests that individual need is currently the primary driver of demand for internationalisation economic considerations are becoming more prominent. Introducing international content into curricula and other aspects of campus activities is seen a means to make students, institutions and countries more competitive in the global marketplace (Qiang, 2003). The change in rationale is underpinned by a paradigm shift from cooperation to competition , driven by the growing international market for education (Campbell and van der Wende, 2000).
The potential for HEIs to generate income from international activities is motivating (Meiras 2004). The recruitment of foreign students has become a significant factor for institutional income, and of national economic interest (Qiang 2003). The Fottrell report (Fottrell 2006) on undergraduate medical education in Ireland provides an example of how income generation from foreign students underpins the viability of Irish medical schools.
Revenue-generation rationales have become important in the strategic vision of some OECD countries, notably Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Both Australia and New Zealand have followed an integrated, government-led strategy for promoting education as an export industry.
Typically, government support for foreign income generation strategies has allowed institutions considerable autonomy to seek and secure the reputation of their higher education sector, for example, through the operation of international quality assurance arrangements (OECD, 2004).
Liberalisation of Educational Markets
Internationalisation of the supply of education services is supported by the liberalisation of educational markets through initiatives such as regional trade agreements. Other factors contributing to the growth in supply are the increase in international competition in higher education and an enhanced economic rationale for internationalisation (Van der Wende and Westerheijden, 2001).
In many countries, governments have introduced deregulation policies to promote increased institutional autonomy and stronger market influences. The impact of deregulation, particularly where accompanied by a decrease in public funding, has prompted higher education institutions to expand their activities beyond national borders (Campbell and van der Wende, 2000).
The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) , which includes education in the scope of its coverage is potentially highly significant. GATS, a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement which came into force in 1995 centres on the liberalisation of trade in services through successive rounds of negotiations. In terms of education, four different modes are recog-nised under the GAT agreement: 1) Cross-border supply, e.g. distance education, e-learning, virtual universities; 2) Consumption abroad, e.g. students travelling abroad to study; 3) Commercial presence, e.g. local branch or satellite campuses, twinning partnerships, franchising arrangements with local institutions and 4) Presence of natural persons, e.g. professors, teachers, researchers working abroad (examples from (Knight 2002)).
The basic principles underlying GATS are listed :
All services are covered by GATS
Most-favoured-nation treatment applies to all services, except the one-off temporary exemptions (favour one, favour all.)
National treatment applies in the areas where commitments are made (Individual countries’ commitments to open markets in specific sectors — and how open those markets will be — are the outcome of negotiations.)
Transparency in regulations, inquiry points
Regulations have to be objective and reasonable (and impartial)
International payments: normally unrestricted
Individual countries’ commitments: negotiated and bound
Progressive liberalization: through further negotiations
The implications of GATS on higher education could be quite significant and has been controversial although discussions have quietened in recent times. Exceptions to its provisions arise in respect of services provided in the exercise of governmental authority. It is not absolutely clear whether or not publicly funded higher education falls into that category – privately provided higher education does not. GATS would impact on regulation (quality assurance, accreditation and standards) and on subsidies. The impact of GATS on higher education may increase substantially owing to the provision for progressive liberalisation through negotiation. For a detailed perspective on GATS and Higher Education refer to (Knight 2002 and 2003).
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
It hardly needs to be stated that information and communication technologies are having and will continue to have a pro-found impact on higher education in general and on its internationalisation in particular by widening access to educational resources. ICT has dramatically increased the accessibility of knowledge, has resulted in the blurring of both national borders and in some respects the role of national governments (Qiang, 2003). In some technical and professional fields, e-learning has become a major form of delivery that is accessible online worldwide.
The ICT revolution is far from complete. To date the main achievement has been to roll out access to technology – the imaginative use of that technology in education has only recently taken off and there is yet a vast scope for growth.
One interesting example of widening access to resources is the MIT open courseware project. ‘OpenCourseWare expresses in an immediate and far-reaching way MIT's goal of advancing education around the world. Through MIT OCW, educators and students everywhere can benefit from the academic activities of our faculty and join a global learning community in which knowledge and ideas are shared openly and freely for the benefit of all.’ (Susan Hockfield, President of MIT (ocw.mit.edu)).
Incidentally, the widening of access to educational resources facilitated by ICT may allow teachers to reevaluate the traditional approaches to teaching and perhaps provide opportunities of rebalancing effort allowing more time for small group work and formative assessment.
Transnational education encompasses ‘all types of higher education study programme, or sets of courses of study or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based’ (UNESCO/Council of Europe, 1999).
There is clearly a market among individuals for affordable, accessible high quality education. Moreover, in cases where domestic provision is unable to meet demand, governments can turn to foreign institutions to close the gap (Garrett and Verbik, 2003).
Transnational provision also allows access to continuing professional development programmes. Some US universities for example provide online courses designed for continuing for professional development of engineers and other specialists.
There is increasing evidence that transnational provision is currently concentrated in professional subjects, in particular business, and to a lesser extent IT. For example, in Hong Kong, of the 385 foreign programmes, 65% are concentrated in business with another 11% in IT. These data may reflect the greater propensity of foreign institutions to concentrate on professional subjects as ‘safe bets’ when they are not guided by local institutions. The trend towards professional subjects in transnational provision is in contrast to international students’ choice of study disciplines when they go overseas, which is more evenly balanced across disciplines (OECD, 2003). The countries most actively engaged in transnational provision are the USA, the UK and Australia.
3 Recognition, Quality Assurance
Barriers to mobility and lack of transparent quality systems impede internationalisation of higher education and training. The term quality assurance should be understood to include all forms of external quality assurance (public accountability) by competent public authorities including programme accreditation.
Recognition of learning
Any weakness in provision of proportionate, fair and consistent processes for recognition qualifications and assessment of learning attainment (the term recognition covers both) can frustrate attempts to enrol as a student or take up employment in a foreign country.
There are different classes of recognition: (i) recognition of a formal qualification like a degree or diploma, (ii) recognition of a second level qualification for the purpose of access, (iii) assessment of the learning outcome of a period of study abroad for the purpose of gaining academic credit, (iv) assessment of non-formal learning for the purpose of gaining academic credit towards a qualification or for the purpose of access and (iv) assessment of learning and or qualification for the purpose of licence to practice (professional recognition).
Early practices on the recognition of qualifications involved comparisons of curricula etc. This approach can recognise equivalent programmes but can fail to recognise equivalent learning outcomes. A fairer and more systematic approach is to agree to focus exclusively on learning outcome (knowledge, skill or competence). The outcome-based approach may be facilitated where there exists a shared framework of qualifications to provide categories for analysing attainment. Moreover, recognition processes can be less rigid when transparent quality assurance systems are in place because these reveal the standards being attained and enhance the credibility of qualifications issued.
UNESCO has been centrally involved in establishing a legal framework for the recognition of qualifications around the World. There exist regional conventions covering the recognition of studies for (i) Europe (ii) Africa, (iii) the Arab States, (iv) Asia and the Pacific, (v) Latin America and the Caribbean, and (vi) the Mediterranean region) .
‘In 1992, a joint meeting of the five regional and one intergovernmental committee was convened to explore the feasibility of adopting a Universal Convention on the Recognition of Studies and Degrees in Higher Education. However, consensus could not be reached and it was concluded that the action should continue to be pursued at regional levels.’(UNESCO 2004). Following this UNECSO published ‘Recommendation on the Recognition of Studies and Qualifications in Higher Education’ in 1993 addressed to Member States ‘when considering the measures to be taken to achieve broader recognition of qualifications in higher education’. These recommendations call for flexibility in establishing procedures:
‘In establishing procedures for the evaluation of qualifications for all the purposes mentioned under paragraphs 8 to 10 above, the competent authorities and institutions concerned should take into account the wide diversity of institutions, types of study, programme content and teaching methods, including distance teaching and other non-traditional forms of higher education. In evaluating the comparability of a for-eign qualification, authorities should also take into account the rights that would have been enjoyed by its holder in the country in which it was obtained.’(UNESCO 1993)
The Lisbon Recognition Convention 1997 (Council of Europe/UNESCO convention) covers the European region, updates the 1979 UNESCO convention and is the first convention to be updated following the issue of 1993 UNESCO recommendations. It has been signed by most member states of the Council of Europe as well as the United States, Canada, Australia and others. The Lisbon Recognition Convention focuses on learning outcomes (knowledge and skills) and requires recognition unless a ‘substantial’ difference can be demonstrated.
Generally it is recognised that there is a need to revise and update the existing recognition conventions to take into account new requirements such as for example the recognition of international joint degrees. Consider the following recommended action arising from the Globalization and Higher Education: Implications for North-South Dialogue Conference 2003
‘Reinforcement, reviewing and updating of the existing regional conventions on, the recognition of qualifications to respond to new needs and to represent international standards in the GATS framework. In addition the feasibility of establishing a revised international framework for the recognition of qualifications will be explored.’
In this context it should be noted that the Lisbon Recognition Convention has been able to adapt to change through the adoption of ‘subsidiary texts’.
In 1984, the European Commission established the Network of National Academic Recognition Centres (NARICs) to improve the academic recognition of qualifications and periods of study in Member States of the European Union and certain other countries in Europe. The Council of Europe and UNESCO established the ENIC Network (European Network of National Information Centres on academic recognition and mobility) to implement the Lisbon Recognition Convention and develop ‘policy and practice for the recognition of qualifications’. The ENIC and NARIC networks work very closely together.
The pacific countries and Australia, New Zealand and other Asian countries are hoping to come together to form a recognition network similar to ENIC/NARIC in order to increasing the sharing of information and best practice in respect of recognition. There already exists a credit transfer system for this region—it is called UMAP .
Professional recognition describes the right to engage in a profession. Professional recognition is a more complex issue as it encompasses not only the national system of education but also the organisation of the profession in the receiving country. The recognition of professional qualifications is frequently influenced by wider issues including trade policies and alliances, migratory polices, cultural isolation or internationalisation and historic relationships. In recent years, issues of professional reciprocity and equivalency have been addressed through mutual recognition agreements. These agreements may vary in scope and are generally negotiated between professional bodies, nations or regional groupings (Campbell and van der Wende, 2000). The Washington Accord is an good example:
‘Recognizing the substantial equivalency of accreditation systems of organizations holding signatory status, and the engineering education programs accredited by them.
Establishing that graduates of programs accredited by the accreditation organizations of each member nation are prepared to practice engi-neering at the entry level.’
In the European Union there exist various directives on the recognition of professional qualifications which have a significant role in enhancing recognition and professional mobility (Section 4).
Quality assurance systems
Quality assurance is central to efforts to improving higher education and to creating the trust required for international col-laborations, exchanges and interactions. It is a central topic in the Bologna Process. In the US, the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006) draft report (version 9 August 2006) concludes that accountability is the key to improving the performance of the higher education sector and that student achievement, which is closely linked to institutional success must be measured on a ‘value added’ basis .
The starting point for quality is in the higher education provider. Providers should have in place internal quality assurance systems and be subject to external quality assurance by independent agencies which should themselves be subject to inde-pendent assessment. This is the approach recommended in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area which will be discussed in Section 4 and also by the INQAAHE Guidelines of Good Practice. A useful overview of ‘World Issues in Quality Assurance’ is provided in (Kristoffersen and Woodhouse 2005).
The remainder of this section will focus on quality assurance of cross-border programmes which presents some special problems for providers, quality assurance agencies and networks of quality assurance agencies.
The USA, the UK and Australia led the way in the early 1990s by developing codes of good practice setting out minimum standards in the areas of student mobility, overseas recruitment, and the cross-border delivery of programmes and services.
The Internationalisation Quality Review Project (IQRP) was launched in 1994 by the Programme on Institutional Manage-ment in Higher Education (IMHE) of the OECD in collaboration with the Academic Co-operation Association (ACA). After piloting the project in several institutions around the world, it was further developed and institutionalised in co-operation with the European University Association, and it is now provided by the three organisations under the name IQR (Internationalisation Quality Review). The main purpose of IQR is quality improvement through an assessment of the achievements of the institution’s own stated goals and objectives for internationalisation (van der Wende and Westerheijden, 2001).
A set of principles was developed by the Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE) to assist institutions and organisations in the development and evaluation of quality cross-border education. GATE offered certification of transnational programmes through a process of self-evaluation and peer review.
Also, in the area of transnational education, UNESCO and the Council of Europe co-ordinated the development of a Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education (UNESCO/Council of Europe, 2001). Building on the Lisbon Recognition Convention (Council of Europe, 1997), the principles articulated in the Code are designed to meet the expectations of both sending and receiving countries.
The UK Quality Assurance Authority (QAA) has developed a Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education and Section 2 of the code deals with ‘collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning) . Compliance with the Code is compulsory and it is based on the premise that academic standards of awards made under a collaborative arrangement must be equivalent to those of comparable awards delivered by the sending country.
The UNESCO Global Forum on International Quality Assurance, Accreditation and the Recognition of Qualifications was set up in 2002. The first forum focused on 'Globalization and Higher Education' and resulted in an action plan for UNESCO. It included:
‘Updating the regional conventions so that they better respond to the new challenges of a changing higher education environment,
Capacity building for quality assurance at national and regional levels to ensure the sustainable development of higher education systems and
Developing information tools for students on quality provision of higher education to empower them for informed decision-making
Developing international guidelines and codes of good practice were proposed to support an international framework for national policy de-velopment’
A very significant joint effort by the OECD and UNESCO resulted in the development of the publication Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Education (OECD, 2005). These guidelines provide an international framework to protect students and other stakeholders against low quality provision and disreputable providers. This initiative was prompted by the diversity of national frameworks for quality assurance accreditation and recognition of qualifications. While some countries have comprehensive systems, other countries still lack the capacity to address the challenges of cross-border provision. Also the lack of comprehensive frameworks for co-ordinating various initiatives at international level has resulted in some instances where cross-border provision is not covered by any framework of quality assurance and accreditation. The Guidelines set out how governments, higher education institutions, student bodies, quality assurance and accreditation bodies, academic and professional recognition bodies of the sending and receiving countries could share responsibilities, while respecting the diversity of higher education systems. There are four main policy objectives:
‘‘Students/learners protection’ from the risks of misinformation, low-quality provision and qualifications of limited validity.
Qualifications should be readable and transparent in order to increase their international validity and portability. Reliable and user-friendly information sources should facilitate this.
Recognition procedures should be transparent, coherent, fair and reliable and impose as little burden as possible to mobile professionals.
National quality assurance and accreditation agencies need to intensify their international cooperation in order to increase mutual under-standing.’
The development of the guidelines and codes of practice discussed above has been a positive step forward in providing a consistent approach to addressing the quality assurance issues associated with the provision of cross-border education.
However, these initiatives are designed to provide a framework or set of principles which should underpin the quality assurance systems of providing institutions. The ultimate test of success is evidence of effective quality assurance systems based on the guidelines and codes of practice. The most significant benchmark of success is the ability of quality assurance systems to measure and report on the accuracy of claimed learning outcomes and level of attainment. More research is needed in this area.
An interesting approach to the external QA of international collaboration is that of the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) . Even before the launch of the UNESCO/OECD Guidelines, the AUQA had adopted a risk assessment approach to determine the nature of a university’s overseas operations, with the option of an audit panel visit to an overseas site where appropriate. The agency is currently developing bilateral relations with quality agencies in countries where Australia has a significant higher education presence. Memoranda of Co-operation have also been signed with other agencies (Woodhouse, 2006).
On the receiving side, initiatives have been developed to assure consumer protection in the wake of concerns about the quality and standards of transnational education. Several countries have enacted legislation which requires foreign providers to be registered, licensed or in some other way approved by the local quality assurance authorities or by the Ministry of Education (e.g. Hong Kong, Israel, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa).
Distance education is a mode of provision that arises in the international context as well as in the national context. Distance education is an area in which traditional providers are increasingly active and which has seen the emergence of new providers that are quite different in form to the traditional providers. The quality assurance of distance programmes presents different problems to that of traditional programmes. We won’t dwell on them here because they are not exclusively international issues. The issues are covered well in, for example, the ‘Best Practices For Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs’ published jointly by the eight (including the six higher education) regional accrediting commissions in the USA or in the aforementioned QAA guidelines.
4 The European Context
Internationalisation activity at the regional in Europe has been particularly intense for the past decade. The main drivers are the European Commission and the Bologna Process. The Bologna Process is a process of intergovernmental cooperation involving 45 Countries (2006) which aims to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010. The European Union with 25 Member States (2006) contributes to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States. UNESCO and the Council of Europe (46 countries) as we have seen are also significant actors particularly in the area of recognition.
The Bologna Process
The EHEA is to be achieved by creating a common structure (consistent and compatible systems and processes) for higher education and training which is sufficiently flexible to allow national requirements to be met. There is a corresponding process for further education called the Copenhagen process.
The Bologna Process divides higher education into three main cycles. The corresponding major qualifications in the Irish system are Bachelor, Master and Doctor. A misconception that sometimes arises is that the Bologna Process prescribes a 3+2 year model for the first two cycles. Two significant recent developments in the Bologna Process are the adoption in 2005 of ‘Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area' (Bologna Standards and Guidelines) and 'The framework of qualifications for the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Framework)'.
The Bologna Standards and Guidelines are contained in a report to Bologna Ministers entitled ‘Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area’ developed and drafted by ENQA through its members and in cooperation with EURASHE, ESIB and EUA.
(ENQA is the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education; EURASHE is group of national and professional associations of colleges and polytechnics and individual Institutions; ESIB is the students group and EUA is the European University Association. These four bodies meet regularly as the E4-Group. ENQA coordinates E4-Group meetings which include representation from the European directorate-general of Education and Training.)
The main recommendations in the ENQA report on Standards and Guidelines include:
There will be European standards for internal and external quality assurance, and for external quality assurance agencies.
European quality assurance agencies will be expected to submit themselves to a cyclical review within five years.
There will be an emphasis on subsidiarity, with reviews being undertaken nationally where possible.
The report also proposed that a European register of quality assurance agencies be produced. Ministers at Bergen adopted the stan-dards and guidelines and welcomed the principle of a European register of QA Agencies and asked ENQA in co-operation with the other members of the E4 Group to report back through the Follow-up Group on the practicalities of establishing a European Register.
The first agency in Europe to demonstrate formal compliance with the aforementioned Standards and Guidelines did so in July 2006. It is reasonable to anticipate that all EHEA external QA agencies and higher education providers will adapt their QA processes to these Bologna Standards and Guidelines.
The Bologna Framework is based on the Dublin Descriptors developed by the Joint Quality Initiative drawing on experi-ence of established frameworks elsewhere particularly in the UK. There is already considerable support for the Bologna Framework owing to the pre-existence and widespread application of the Dublin Descriptors.
The Bologna Process has the full support of the European Commission (which nevertheless has more wide ranging objectives)—its contribution to the Bologna Bergen Meeting included the following point under the heading ‘Next Steps: Universities and the Lisbon Strategy’:
‘Bologna reforms are necessary and they will have the full support of the Commission in the years to come, but in striving for ever-increased quality, institutions and governments must look beyond these structures, and address the underlying questions of attractiveness, governance and funding. They should consider what needs to be done in order to achieve world-class quality, to improve governance of institutions and systems, and to increase and diversify higher education funding.’ (EC 2005)
A comprehensive mid-term review of the Bologna process was published by EURYDICE in 2005. It found that the three-cycle structure was being introduced in most signatory countries, the implementation of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and Diploma Supplement had begun in a majority and the development of quality assurance measures was also well under way and concluded that it ‘remains vital to extend these measures to all higher education institutions and programmes on a regular systematic basis and to reinforce them with additional measures such as effective quality assurance systems recognised outside national borders.’
The EUA Trends survey of higher education institutions (HEIs) is published biennially. Trends IV survey involved site visits to 62 HEIs and focused on structures, recognition and quality. Overall Trends IV found that the surveyed HEIs have adopted the Bologna Process reforms and in the majority of case have taken ownership of the process. Curiously, accord-ing to Trends IV the majority of Higher Education Institutions report that ‘national legislation undermines decision making autonomy’. What the trends report demonstrates very clearly is that despite the high-level consensus that exists in the Bologna Process and while there has been very significant progress made that there yet remains is considerable variation in the implementation, and even the understanding of the Bologna related instruments and that much work remains to be done. Some of the findings which have an overtly international dimension are highlighted (paraphrased/quoted) in the following paragraphs:-
‘Considerable progress has been made in introducing three cycle structures across Europe, although there are still some legislative obstacles to structural reform in a few countries five years after signing the Bologna Declaration. Many institutions, however, have now reached the heart of the transition process. Structural change must be matched with proper redevelopment of the curricula, and often this has not been completed. Confusion sometimes exists regarding the objectives of the first cycle degree (which many mistakenly regard as a compressed ver-sion of former long-cycle programmes) and in many cases there has not been adequate time for institutions and academics to address reforms in a comprehensive way and to benefit from the opportunities offered through restructuring the curricula.’
‘Recognition of qualifications: Improved quality is regarded as one of the keys to more automatic recognition of qualifications across Europe. The site visits show that considerable progress in recognition is being made, but again there is a need to do more to ensure a systematic use of the commonly agreed Bologna transparency tools, in particular ECTS and the Diploma Supplement. The Diploma Supplement is cer-tainly being introduced in all the countries visited, in line with the commitment of the Berlin Communiqué, but in addition to technical problems, the challenge of providing clear information about learning outcomes remains. Meanwhile ECTS is being widely used for “student transfer”, and generally seems to work well. However, it is still often perceived as a tool to translate national systems into a European language, rather than as a central feature of curriculum design. Thus strengthening efforts to mainstream these European tools in institu-tions across Europe continues to be a priority.’ Some HEIs ‘have difficulties with the validation of courses taken abroad’. Many identified the need to improve the implementation of ECTS to preclude inconsistencies.
‘One of the biggest practical problems with Joint Degree programmes is the question of quality assurance/accreditation. Transnational higher education programmes need special forms of quality assurance and it is to be hoped that the progress made at European level for quality in agreeing on shared guidelines and standards will also facilitate appropriate accreditation mechanisms for Joint Degree pro-grammes.’ Trends IV provides some evidence that the ‘situation regarding the legal possibility to award joint degrees’ is improving but also states: ‘amendments to the higher education laws are still needed in some countries where Joint Degrees are either excluded or at least not explicitly mentioned and encouraged in the national legislation.’
Variation in academic calendars across Europe is a ‘major obstacle’ to mobility. Agreement on the date for the end of the first semester and start of second semester would resolve this issue.
‘The recognition of non-formal/non-academic qualifications (APL/APEL) needs to be put on the agenda of more HEIs as it will be an increasingly important topic in future national and European discussions on higher education and vocational training.’
The current focus of the Bologna Process is on
implementation of the standards and guidelines for quality assurance;
implementation of the national frameworks for qualifications;
the awarding and recognition of joint degrees, including at the doctorate level;
creating opportunities for flexible learning paths in higher education, including
procedures for the recognition of prior learning.
There follow some observations on the Bologna process:
1. Significant progress has been made, there is widespread support for the process and we now have some of the main tools for exchanging information about the quality and standards of higher education programmes. What is still lacking at this early stage is practical expertise and know-how in using those tools consistently so that the decisions made are repeatable. This will come in time provided various communities of practice candidly share experiences and stakeholders remain open to change.
2. This lack of practical experience also applies at the programme level where the switch to learning outcomes and a student centred approach will take some years to embed. The new learner centred approach will not happen by fiat but by individuals and institutions changing their approach to teaching and more important to assessment. This new approach also requires that external quality agencies adapt their methods to encourage focus on outcomes and the ‘value added’ to learners.
3. HEIs and External Quality Assurance Agencies will generally be able to comply with the Standards and Guide-lines for quality for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. How much transparency this will actually create and whether it will be sufficient to engender the trust required to encourage acceptance of quality and accreditation decisions at face value remains to be seen. One suspects that supplementary instruments such as mutual accreditation/QA agreements might be required.
4. It is by no means clear that the classification by the non-specialist of qualifications using the Bologna Frame-work will lead to repeatable decisions. The problem is that the learning outcome statements are open to a broad interpretation unless one is aware of the context in which they were developed. The best way to address this is to contextualise the framework by publishing examples of Cycle 1 and Cycle 2 programme outcomes in the main disciplines. The work of the Tuning Educational Structures in Europe group which is expressing outcomes for individual disciplines will be very valuable in this respect.
Recognition, The Council of Europe and the Lisbon Recognition Convention
The Council of Europe groups together 46 countries of greater Europe. The contribution of the Council of Europe to the Bologna process is significant particularly in the area of recognition of qualifications. In this section we focus upon the Lis-bon Recognition Convention. Other contributions of the Council of Europe are outlined in the Council Recommendation 1620 (2003) ‘Council of Europe contribution to the higher education area’.
The Lisbon Recognition Convention can be regarded as a pillar of the Bologna Process. The full title of the convention is ‘Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region’. The term ‘qualifications concerning higher education’ includes higher education qualifications and qualifications giving access to higher education. The convention con-cerns assessment of qualifications for recognition or other purposes.
The principal provisions are (quoting from the Council of Europe Website) :
‘Holders of qualifications issued in one country shall have adequate access to an assessment of these qualifications in another country.
No discrimination shall be made in this respect on any ground such as the applicant's gender, race, colour, disability, language, religion, po-litical opinion, national, ethnic or social origin.
The responsibility to demonstrate that an application does not fulfil the relevant requirements lies with the body undertaking the assessment.
Each country shall recognise qualifications – whether for access to higher education, for periods of study or for higher education degrees – as similar to the corresponding qualifications in its own system unless it can show that there are substantial differences between its own qualifi-cations and the qualifications for which recognition is sought.
Recognition of a higher education qualification issued in another country shall have one or more of the following consequences:
- access to further higher education studies, including relevant examinations and preparations for the doctorate, on the same condi-tions as candidates from the country in which recognition is sought;
- The use of an academic title, subject to the laws and regulations of the country in which recognition is sought
- In addition, recognition may facilitate access to the labour market.’
Article X.2.5 of the Convention allows the Council of Europe/UNESCO Recognition Convention Committee to adopt subsidiary texts to the Convention and so far four texts have been adopted:
Recommendation on the Recognition of Joint Degrees and its Explanatory Memorandum (2004)
Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Trans-national Education (2001)
Recommendation on Criteria and Procedures for the Assessment on Foreign Qualifications (2001)
Recommendation on International Access Qualifications (1999).
The Recommendation on the Recognition of Joint Degrees is a response to the growing importance of these qualifications which in the strict legal sense are not considered covered by the Council of Europe/UNESCO Recognition Convention. It provides an inclusive definition of ‘joint degrees’ describing the kind of programmes and qualifications that are covered and very detailed and practical guidelines for the recognition of joint degrees. It recommends issue of the Diploma Sup-plement and ECTS.
The Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Trans-national Education according to its explanatory memorandum is designed: ‘to (i) to meet the expectations of both the sending and the receiving countries with regard to transnational arrangements in higher education; (ii) to provide a source of reference on issues relating to the quality assurance and evaluation of programmes provided and qualifications issued through transnational arrangements; (iii) to offer “consumer protection” for students, employers and others who may be concerned with qualifications awarded through transnational arrangements; and (iv) to facilitate the recognition of qualifications awarded through transnational arrangements in higher education.’
Clause 2 of the Recommendation on Criteria and Procedures for the Assessment on Foreign Qualifications describes its purpose: ‘It codifies established best practice among credential evaluators and builds on this practice in suggesting further improvements. The provisions of the Recommen-dation are in particular directed at recognition cases where a complex assessment is required. It is realised that cases involving well-known qualifica-tions may be treated in a simpler way.’
The Recommendation on International Access Qualifications refers to ‘secondary school leaving qualifications awarded upon completion of a pro-gramme that (i) are distinct from the programmes offered within national education systems; (ii) are administered by one or more bodies external to national education systems, (iii) have an international orientation and scope per se, (iv) meet the general requirements for access to higher education, (v) are subject to well-defined and transparent quality assurance mechanisms and (vi) incorporate a core curriculum of sufficient academic rigour.’
Quality Assurance and Qualification Frameworks will facilitate recognition. The following pair of quotations are from ENIC/NARIC statement on recognition in the EHEA (ENIC/NARIC 2004):
‘The Networks take this opportunity to underline the considerable benefits that a qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area could entail in providing an overarching framework within which the learning outcomes of individual qualifications, as de-fined by the relevant national qualifications framework, would be placed. This EHEA framework would therefore considerably simplify the recognition of qualifications and – through the national qualifications frameworks, also ensure that the quality of the qualification has been assessed.’
The improved recognition of qualifications is intimately linked to improved and transparent quality assurance through cooperation between national systems based on a common understanding of goals, procedures and methods. The ENIC and NARIC Networks contribute to this effort through regular discussions with ENQA and are willing to engage in discussions with other relevant organizations.
There follow some observations on practicalities of implementing the Lisbon Recognition Convention
1. The Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC) does not result in the automatic recognition of qualifications. Assess-ments can still be carried out on a case-by-case basis and competent authorities can require evidence (methods and results of assessment) that, for example, the quality of a qualification justifies recognition. In the case of joint degrees they may make recognition conditional on all parts of the programme and/or the institutions providing the programme being subject to transparent quality assessment (Clause 9). Accordingly, bi-or multi-lateral agreements on accreditation and quality may need to be established before recognition is truly automatic under the LRC.
2. The LRC requires recognition unless a ‘substantial difference can be shown’. There has been much debate around the meaning of “substantial” and countries differ in how they interpret this.
3. The various ENIC/NARIC operations offer very different services to applicants – some are more compre-hensive and in-depth than others.
4. There is no common view among EU countries in respect of the operation of recognition centres, notwithstanding that many of them have adopted the LRC. The adoption of the LRC by many countries in respect of recognition gives the impression that there is a common approach and philosophy in respect of the processing of applications – experience is different so far.
5. At recent ENQA and NARIC meetings there was much discussion around mutual agreements in respect of recognition of qualifications from the various jurisdictions. There appeared to be reluctance among the majority to move quickly at this stage and a sense that more time is needed for the new systems to embed, particularly in the context of the increasing complexity of qualifications.
6. There is anecdotal evidence that deficiencies in the implementation of policy throughout the EU in respect of RPL (recognition of prior learning) and RP Experience has resulted in a certain lack of willingness to recognise qualifica-tions where a candidate has received a significant amount of exemptions based on RPL or RPE.
The European Union
The impact of the European Union upon its member states is profound and comprehensive. It will be no surprise that it is a very significant actor in the education and research arena. It should be noted that at the European level, education in general and higher education in particular are not subjects of a ‘common European policy’ and competence for the ‘content of teaching and the organisation of education systems’ remains at national level. However, Art. 149 of the Treaty of Nice (2001) states that:
1. ‘The Community shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if nec-essary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teach-ing and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.
2. Community action shall be aimed at:
-developing the European dimension in education, particularly through the teaching and dissemination of the languages of the Member States,
-encouraging mobility of students and teachers, by encouraging inter alia, the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study,
-promoting cooperation between educational establishments,
-developing exchanges of information and experience on issues common to the education systems of the Member States,
-encouraging the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socioeducational instructors,
-encouraging the development of distance education.
3. The Community and the Member States shall foster cooperation with third countries and the competent international organisations in the field of education, in particular the Council of Europe.
4. In order to contribute to the achievement of the objectives referred to in this Article, the Council:
-acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251, after consulting the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, shall adopt incentive measures, excluding any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the Member States,
-acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt recommendations.
Accordingly, the Community has a very significant role in internationalisation of education in the EU and beyond. The work of the EU Research and Education Directorates-General are particularly relevant. This paper will only touch on certain aspects of EU involvement that relate closely to qualifications, quality, mobility, as well as research and professional recognition. The activities of the EC are broadly compatible with the Bologna process but that is not to state that they share the same detailed objectives as we shall see.
The Council of the European Union published a ‘recommendation on European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education’ in 1998 (98/561/EC). The European Parliament published a recommendation on ‘further European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education’ in 2006 (EC 2006)). It recommends inter alia that Member States encourage the establishment of a European Register of Quality Assurance Agencies and
‘encourage all higher education institutions active within their territory to introduce or develop rigorous internal quality assurance systems, in accordance with the standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area adopted in Bergen in the con-text of the Bologna Process’;
‘encourage all quality assurance or accreditation agencies active within their territory to be independent in their assessments, to apply the fea-tures of quality assurance laid down in Recommendation 98/561/EC and to apply the common set of general standards and guidelines adopted in Bergen, for assessment purposes. These standards should be further developed in cooperation with representatives of the higher education sector. They should be applied in such a way as to protect and promote diversity and innovation’;
‘enable higher education institutions active within their territory to choose among quality assurance or accreditation agencies in the European Register an agency which meets their needs and profile, provided that this is compatible with their national legislation or permitted by their national authorities’;
‘allow higher education institutions to work towards a complementary assessment by another agency in the European Register, for example to enhance their international reputation’.
The practicality of establishing a European Register is something that is under consideration in the Bologna Process the E4 Group is due to report on the European Register to the Bologna Follow-up Group in October 2006 and March 2007.
The European Commission (EC) is developing a 'European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning' (EQF). This is an important initiative because the EQF would cover all stages and types of education and training (formal, non-formal and informal). The EC claims support for setting up an EQF, for EQF as meta-framework and for a learning outcomes approach. A consultation document has been produced which gives a clear indication of what an EFQ will look like—the draft version contains eight levels and would be voluntary. It is to be a 'translation device for comparing qualifications' and a 'neutral reference point based on learning outcomes' (knowledge, skills and wider personal and professional competencies). According to the EC consultation document
‘The ‘Dublin descriptors’, adopted within the Bologna process for coordination of higher education, have been used extensively to reflect the 4 highest levels of an EQF. Where the Dublin descriptors have been amended for the EQF descriptors, this has been done to (i) achieve consistency with lower-level descriptors, (ii) to ensure that the learning outcome focus of an EQF is maintained and (iii) to include high-level VET learning outcomes. Annex 3 presents the overlap between the Dublin descriptors and the descriptors of the EQF.’
The draft EQF is compatible with the Bologna Framework but it is not the same as it. Despite the rationale presented for this difference it would seem preferable if it were possible for the final version of the EQF to build upon the existing Framework for Qualifications for the EHEA (which is in use and represents a consensus of 45 countries) to avoid any possibility of confusion arising from the existence of two meta-frameworks.
The impact of EU directives on the recognition of professional qualifications is important. Council Directive 89/48/EEC regulates the recognition of higher-education qualifications (in respect of programmes of at least three years duration) which enable persons to pursue a profession in a specific member state of the EU. Council Directive 92/51/EEC and Council Directive 1999/42/EC are also relevant. Notwithstanding, that there is a view that the implementation of these is clear, the practice differs greatly through the EU. The directives provide for the identification of very minor deficits and there is a limit set to the additional requirements that may be imposed, yet experience shows for example that Irish teachers meet significant restrictions when trying to find positions in France and Germany, while the Teachers Registration Council in Ireland find themselves constrained by the directives and often are concerned that they are required to register individuals, who if trained in Ireland in a similar manner would not be qualified to teach. Similar issues arise in respect of nursing. In summary, differing practices in different countries affect the integrity of the directives.
The Socrates-Erasmus Programme covers higher education institutions and their students and staff in the European Union and European Economic Area (comprising the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and the three EU candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey). By 2004 1.2 million students has taken part in an Erasmus supported period of study abroad. The annual budget in 2004 was €187.5 million. Demand from students can sometimes be disappointing or imbalanced where language, cost, recognition issues, compatibility of programmes, even timetable clashes or anxiety about studying abroad can be dissuasive factors. Small obstacles can be perceived as large when study abroad is optional.
The European Research Area (ERA) project is an attempt to ‘create a genuine 'internal market' in research and knowledge and to im-prove the way research is conducted in Europe through better coordination of national research policies.’ The multi-annual Framework Pro-gramme is one of the main instruments of EU research policy providing funding for cooperative research between universities, research centres and industries - including small and medium sized enterprises. FP7 will run from 2007 to 2013, the budget for FP7 is over 50 billion Euro. From the quality perspective a significant recent development is the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. Inter alia this sets down standards for the research environment. Also of significance is the Erasmus Mundus action which ‘is a co-operation and mobility programme in post-graduate higher education. It aims to promote the European Union as a centre of excellence in learning around the world, by attracting high quality students from countries outside the European Union to register for Joint Masters Degrees.’
‘The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a student-centred system based on the student workload re-quired to achieve the objectives of a programme, objectives preferably specified in terms of the learning outcomes and competences to be acquired.’
Strictly, the use of learning-outcome as a measure of attainment makes ECTS credit redundant from a theoretical perspective despite the definition in the preceding paragraph because once the learning outcome is specified fully there is no need to describe any part of the process by which it was achieved.
Nevertheless, credit as a measure of learner input into a process is an important transparency tool for building confidence in claimed outcomes and will be necessary for the foreseeable future.
While credit (being indicative of ‘time served’) is useful in building confidence in a claimed learning outcome it has virtually zero information to communicate about the nature of that outcome. Accordingly care one can never justifiably state that a particular qualification normally requires a quantity of credit without also specifying the learning outcomes required for the qualification.
Mutual recognition of accreditation and the ECA
Mutual recognition of accreditation is important in the context of the Bologna process especially in the context of collaborative programmes leading to joint degrees as evidenced from the Trends IV findings. It is also important for recognition of qualifications because such can be denied on quality grounds or on lack of evidence of quality. Mutual recognition of accreditation offers the possibility of moving a step closer to automatic recognition of the relevant qualifications.
The European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education (ECA) was established in 2003 for the purpose of attain-ing mutual recognition of accreditation agreements among its members by 2007. There are currently 15 member agencies from the set of countries that includes Austria, Flanders, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland. Members have agreed a Joint Code of Good Practice in December 2004, ‘Principles for the Selection of Experts’ in June 2005 and established a ‘Joint Declaration Concerning the Automatic Recognition of Qualifications’ between ECA members and participating ENIC/NARICS. The aim of the joint declaration is that the ENIC/NARIC will recommend automatic recognition of qualifications of HEIs accredited by ECA members.
A step beyond mutual recognition to establish multinational agencies—the NVAO (Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie) which is the accreditation organisation of The Netherlands and Flanders was established by international treaty is one example.
Collaborative Programmes and Joint Degrees
The international joint degree is the most stirring manifestation of international collaboration between higher education institutions. The key issue in provision and quality assurance is that the collaborative programme must satisfy the same quality standards as single-provider programmes. Interface issues can cause serious difficulties for students if not properly addressed. A collaborative programme is a partnership and all aspects of the programme including its quality assurance must be handled jointly if the programme is to have integrity. Accordingly individual providers have responsibilities to the partnership and the partnership has responsibilities to the students. When two or more institutions with different cultures, admissions policies, regulations, appeals and complaints procedures, quality assurance systems, assessment procedures and graduation protocols collaborate to produce a joint programme they must in principle recreate all of the foregoing (regulations, QA procedures, assessment procedures, appeals and complaints procedures,…) anew for the joint programme. In essence they must create a new virtual provider for the programme. The EUA offers a set of ten ‘Golden Rules’ for establishing joint masters programmes (EUA 2004).
As already mentioned there remain legal issues concerning the making of joint awards but progress is being made in tackling these. We have already noted the progress in the recognition of joint awards. Qualifications based on outcomes facilitate collaboration and mutual understanding when establishing international collaborative programmes. The Bologna Framework is useful for comparing Masters Qualifications but perhaps lacks the resolution required for comparing cycle one qualifications where there is a far greater spread. This is where national frameworks of qualifications will usefully supplement the meta framework(s).
The Diploma Supplement is particularly useful and important for international joint programmes—it would be useful for specific guidelines to be developed for designing the DS for joint degree programmes.
The ENQA Transnational European evaluation project II (TEEP II) ‘aimed to contribute to the development of a method for the exter-nal evaluation of joint programmes and to the process of developing joint degrees in the European context’. Three programmes were evaluated and the reports have been published by ENQA. The final methodological report is not yet available but the drafts released raise some interesting issues notably
‘Challenges related to external circumstances are national requirements for accreditation and differences in degree requirements between partner universities in different countries’
‘The question of who should be responsible for an evaluation of a joint master’s programme must be addressed and solved.’
Ideally, issues need to be addressed when (or prior to) establishing a joint degree which suggests that the relevant external agencies should be involved at that stage.
5 The Irish Context
Ireland’s policies and tools for dealing with international higher education are strongly influenced by the regional develop-ments outlined in Section 4. Indeed Ireland plays quite an active role in shaping those developments particularly the Bologna process.
A survey carried out by the International Education Board Ireland in 2004 indicated that there were 18,608 international stu-dents in participating HEIs including 14,778 from non-EU countries. The corresponding 2005 survey indicates 22,947 international students 14,106 from non-EU countries. In 2005 nearly 60% of these students were on full-time programmes and 40% on short-term/exchange distance/offshore programmes. 1705 Irish students and 168 teachers spent periods of study abroad under the Erasmus programme in 2003-2004 (most recent year for which statistics are published by the HEA). Ireland hosted 3587 Socrates-Erasmus students and 253 teachers in that year (the top three sources were France, Germany and Spain).
National Framework of Qualifications
Ireland’s National Framework of Qualifications was established in 2004 prior to the Bologna Framework. Following the Bergen Bologna Ministerial meeting in 2005, Ireland responded to an invitation undertake a pilot project of the self-certification of the compatibility of the INFQ with the Bologna Framework. This self-certification is a joint endeavour of NQAI and the Irish Awarding bodies ― HETAC, the Universities represented by the IUA, and DIT. The group published a draft report in June 2006 and is consulting on it now. The work is expected to be completed by October 2006. The draft report finds that the outcomes of the Irish Framework are generally compatible with those of the Bologna framework though it identifies the different of Bachelor’s degrees and Honours Bachelor’s degrees as first-cycle qualifications as an ‘apparent inconsistency or paradox’.
Regarding the implementation of the framework: The Higher Education and Training Awards Council has incorporated the Irish Framework in its policies and criteria for setting the standards of awards, for making awards, for delegating authority to make awards and for quality assurance. The Dublin Institute of Technology has incorporated the Irish Framework into its quality assurance procedures. The Irish Universities Quality Board is in the process of updating the Framework for Quality in Irish Universities and this will include the formal incorporation of the Irish Framework.
Ireland has had a long history of external quality assurance/accreditation in the Institute of Technology (IOT) sector. External quality assurance has come more recently to the university sector (CHIU 2003) and it is to some extent voluntary in the private sector. Private sector providers may (but are not required to) seek HETAC accreditation for programmes they offer in which case they become subject to HETAC quality assurance policy and criteria.
Currently there are four bodies with responsibility for external quality assurance of higher education in Ireland. They are HETAC, the Higher Education Authority, the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Irish Universities Qual-ity Board. The Irish Higher Education Quality Network which ‘provides a forum for the discussion of quality assurance / quality improvement issues amongst the principal national stakeholders involved in the quality assurance of higher education and training in Ireland’.
The document ‘Internationalisation of Irish Education Services Report of Interdepartmental Working Group’ was published by the De-partment of Education and Science in November 2004 (Des 2004) recommends setting up a new body (to replace two existing ones) for inter alia awarding an Education Ireland Quality Mark which would be an international brand. It is envisaged that the existing QA arrangements would be relied upon and that the mark would be awarded in consultation with the rele-vant QA body.
Current quality arrangements have met with approval in recent sectoral reviews as the following paragraphs will demonstrate. Some hold the view that it would be reasonable that in the longer term there might be a unified system for external quality assurance. The OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland recommended (OECD review 2004) ‘That in principle there should be a common quality assurance machinery covering both sectors of both sectors of tertiary education but that implementation should be deferred to give the university quality assurance machinery created under the 1997 Act more time to develop and pending longer term clarification of the cross-border systems of quality assurance that are emerging under the Bologna process’.
The Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) was the first external quality assurance agency in Europe to demonstrate (in July 2006) compliance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area.
The Review of Quality Assurance in Irish Universities was jointly commissioned by the Higher Education Authority and the Irish Universities Quality Board, carried out the EUA and published in 2005. Reports on each university and an overall sectoral report were published. The review was generally very positive—‘the Irish universities have established a quality assurance system which is functioning, well organised and now yielding results.’
Other quality relates issues are outlines in the following paragraphs.
Also noteworthy is the fact that HETAC established an MOU (June 2006) with the UK’s QAA. ‘One of the areas of cooperation will be in the identification of fraudulent awarding bodies or accrediting agencies which may adversely affect the reputation of higher education awards and institutions in the UK and Ireland. Both QAA and HETAC recognise the importance of reducing the burden of review on higher education institutions.’ [The MOU] ‘will see QAA and HETAC work towards establishing a strategic alliance to enhance the operation of external quality assurance in both jurisdictions and improve the quality of higher education in the UK and Ireland’
In Ireland the word University is given some protection by Section 52 of the Universities Act 1997: ‘Except in relation to an educational institution or facility established and described as such before the 30th day of July, 1996, (in which case it may continue to be so described) a person shall not, without the approval of the Minister, use the word "university" to describe an educational establishment or facility’.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform determined in respect of non-EEA students that ‘from 18 April 2005 new students granted permission to remain in the State on registering with the Garda National Immigration Bureau will not be permitted access to employment unless they are attending a full-time course of at least one year’s duration leading to a qualification recognised by the Minister for Educa-tion and Science.’ The internationalisation register provides a list of such qualifications. This action was in accordance with In accordance with the recommendations of the report on the Internationalisation of Irish Education Services published by the Department of Education and Science (DES 2004). The principal behind the Internationalisation Register is to ensure that non-national students can identify accredited programmes which lead to awards with recognised value. Moreover, the student work visa scheme is linked to a specified list of approved programmes. Quality assurance in the private-sector is voluntary. Accordingly, there are currently programmes and institutions on the list which have not been required to demonstrate compliance with the standards required for programme validation and/or institutional quality assurance under the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, 2006.
In the past strategy has focused very much on recruitment of foreign students. The document ‘Internationalisation of Irish Education Services Report of Interdepartmental Working Group’ was published by the Department of Education and Science in November 2004 (Des 2004). The OECD review of 2004 recommended that ‘Irish institutions of tertiary education should market themselves more energetically internationally with a view to doubling the international student population in five years’. In the area of internationalisation the EUA Sectoral Review highlighted some important issues to be addressed:
‘While Irish universities are clearly open to international influences and trends, and enjoy constant international inputs of both staff and students, the EUA teams were surprised to note that there appeared to be little general interest in many parts of the universities for a broader international vision for institutional development…. Either way, most Irish universities have only recently developed international strategies and plans, and in some cases these are essentially focused on the recruitment of fee paying students, rather than the internationali-zation of teaching, learning and research at the university for the benefit of the Irish students.’
On the other hand the recently published Strategy for Science, technology and Innovation 2006~2013 has a very broad international strategy (Chapter 7 in particular). The vision includes:
Increased participation in international S&T cooperation and transnational research activity;
An established international profile for Ireland as a premier location for carrying out world class research and development;
Irish institutions are working on the implementation of ECTS compatible credit systems and the Diploma Supplement is available. However, as we have seen in the previous section there may yet remain some practices that are inconsistent with the principles behind these initiatives. For example in the EUA sectoral Review (op. cit.) it was noted that ‘In a number of universities, going abroad for a year or semester often meant that that period had to be repeated on return to Ireland, since the study undertaken abroad was not recognized.’
Ireland has a NARIC centre which currently operates on a case-by-case basis. Significantly, however, in the case of UK and China there are agreements in place that aid recognition. Qualifications and regulatory authorities in Ireland and the United Kingdom have agreed a general cross-referencing of their frameworks of qualifications. The document, ‘Qualifica-tions can cross boundaries - a rough guide to comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland’ aligns the three qualifications frameworks. The ‘Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications between the Government of Ireland and the Government of The People’s Republic of China’ ‘provides for the recognition of higher education awards from sub-degree (higher certificate) to doctorate levels. It will ensure that students and graduates travelling between both countries for the pursuit of further study or employment will have their existing qualifications recognised. China already has similar agreements with Britain, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.
Qualifications Recognition - Ireland (the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland international award recognition cen-tre) hosted a ‘National Qualifications Recognition Conference’ in April 2006 which provided an opportunity for stake-holders to discuss issues of concern. The presentations and workshop outcomes are available on the Qualifications Recognition - Ireland website . While much has been achieved it is recognised that it is necessary to further develop the recognition system in Ireland at all levels (providers and qualifications authorities). The OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland (OECD review 2004) stated that ‘Much more needs to be done to facilitate credit transfer and accumulation, including the recognition of work experience and prior experience’ and recommended ‘that the DES and the new Tertiary Education Authority put their weight strongly behind NQAI’s efforts to secure agreement between providers of non-standard qualifications and developing mechanisms to enable the introduction of APEL’.
‘Europass’ is a new initiative launched… and welcomed warmly at the time by the student representative body USI….
Incidentally, providers in Ireland also make use of the UK NARIC which is feasible owing to the similarity of qualifications in the UK and Ireland.
Joint Awards and Collaborative Programmes
A number of international collaborative programmes leading to joint awards have been established.
HETAC has published a policy on ‘Policy and Criteria for Making Joint Awards, Joint Accreditation and Accreditation of Jointly Provided Programmes and Quality Assurance of Consortium Providers’ and have established several international joint awarding agreements.
6 Impact on National and Institutional Autonomy and on Diversity
We have reviewed internationalisation from a QA perspective. It remains to evaluate its impact on national and institutional autonomy and on diversity.
The Bologna Framework and the Standards and Guidelines are very general tools that admit a very broad diversity. The dangers of the uniformity arising directly from qualifications frameworks and quality standards are of a very low order. Looking at the Bologna process it seems from the EURYDICE and Trends IV surveys that countries and institutions are quite positive about the reforms and are engaging with them at all levels. The complaints are about lack of resources for implementation. Indeed it is national legislation that is identified as impacting upon institutional autonomy and not the Bologna process.
The EU contribution to the development of education, according to the Treaty of Nice, must fully respect the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cul-tural and linguistic diversity.
The pressures on diversity are more likely to arise from market forces and pressures on public funding of higher education. The emergence of a higher education market is an inevitable consequence of (i) massification and (ii) internationalisation. The dynamics of that market will be determined by regulatory environment. Certain types of qualifications lend themselves to distance learning and those will almost certainly become increasingly standardised by market dynamics.
The Global Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is another contributor to that environment that has not yet made itself felt as discussed in section 3. It is through GATS that we see the possibility for (but not the inevitability of) internationalisation to have an impact on national autonomy and diversity.
Internationalisation of higher education is positive potentially quality enhancing. It is supported by agreement on recognition of qualifications and the existence of transparent quality assurance systems.
Significant progress has been achieved towards the creation of a European Higher Education Area but more time will be required for the new processes to embed and for providers and learners to realise the full benefits of the reforms –basic policy tools to deal with internationalisation are in place but practical experience in using them, although developing, is thin. During this period of learning it will be necessary for stakeholders to share experience candidly, avoid becoming attached to particular practices and remain open to adapting to change. The monitoring of progress against objectives should continue for the foreseeable future and certainly well beyond 2010.
Internationalisation initiatives in the European region are not putting pressure on diversity, or national or institutional autonomy. Pressures may come from GATS but its scope as yet is unclear.
Ireland is well connected to international policy developments, is active in the Bologna process and is taking reasonable steps to internationalise particularly at the research level where a clear strategy exists. However, more needs to be done particularly in developing an overarching strategy for internationalisation and on further developing the recognition system at all levels.
The perspective presented here is of a generalised quality assurance agency and must not be interpreted as repre-senting the perspective of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council Ireland.
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