A brief guide to Quality Assurance


The UK context and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education

In the UK, each institution of higher education is responsible for ensuring the quality and standards of its provision, that students are achieving appropriate standards and that a good quality education is being offered.

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education is used to assure the standards and quality of UK higher education, and is kept up to date by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). It is used by UK higher education providers to ensure they are achieving the outcomes expected of them. It presents a series of reference points to help providers offer their students a high-quality experience.

It has three main sections, on academic standards, academic quality and information about higher education provision. It gives all higher education providers a shared starting point for setting, describing and assuring the academic standards of their higher education awards and programmes and the quality of the learning opportunities they provide. It is important to remember that universities themselves have the primary responsibility for ensuring that appropriate standards are being achieved and that they offer a good quality education. The Quality Code has informed the development of policies and procedures for maintaining academic standards, quality and shaping the student experience at the College, and are a useful source of reference and guidance on good practice in the sector.

The three parts of the existing Quality Code are a result of consultation in the sector and are subdivided as necessary into Chapters covering specific themes, as follows:

Part A: Setting and maintaining academic standards

Part A of the Quality Code comprises three Chapters and explains how academic standards are set and maintained for higher education qualifications in the UK:

  • Chapter A1: UK and European reference points for academic standards
  • Chapter A2: Degree-awarding bodies' reference points for academic standards
  • Chapter A3: Securing academic standards and an outcomes-based approach to academic awards

Part B: Assuring and enhancing academic quality

Academic quality is concerned with how well the learning opportunities made available to students enable them to achieve their award. The Quality Code sets out Expectations which higher education providers are required to meet to ensure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning resources are provided for students; that the learning opportunities provided are monitored; and that the provider considers how to improve them. Part B of the Code comprises eleven Chapters as follows:

  • Chapter B1: Programme design, development and approval
  • Chapter B2: Recruitment, selection and admission to higher education
  • Chapter B3: Learning and teaching
  • Chapter B4: Enabling student development and achievement
  • Chapter B5: Student engagement
  • Chapter B6: Assessment of students and the recognition of prior learning
  • Chapter B7: External examining
  • Chapter B8: Programme monitoring and review
  • Chapter B9: Academic appeals and student complaints
  • Chapter B10: Managing higher education provision with others
  • Chapter B11: Research degrees

Part C: Information about higher education provision

Part C relates to public understanding of, and confidence in higher education so sets out ‘an Expectation that higher education providers make available valid, reliable useful and accessible information about their provision’.

The Quality Code has undergone significant redevelopment. Following extensive consultation, the Expectations and Practices of a revised Quality Code were published in March 2018. The full Code, including the advice and guidance that underpins the Expectations and Practices, is scheduled for publication in November 2018.

Other external reference points

Other external reference points include:

Review by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

A key part of QAA's role in the past was to review and report on how providers of higher education, such as universities and colleges, maintain their academic standards and quality. ‌All HEIs were subject to regular audits by the QAA and reports for each institution are published on the QAA website.

Goldsmiths was last audited by a team from the Quality Assurance Agency in June 2015, who judged that our academic standards, the quality and enhancement of student learning opportunities, and the quality of information about these learning opportunities all meet UK expectations. This successful review means that Goldsmiths can display the QAA Quality Mark, indicating to UK and international students that it meets national requirements for standards and quality. A copy of the report is available on the QAA website.

The overall aim of Higher Education Review is to inform students and the wider public whether a provider meets the expectations of the higher education sector for:

  • the setting and/or maintenance of academic standards
  • the provision of learning opportunities
  • the provision of information
  • the enhancement of the quality of students' learning opportunities

Higher Education Review is a flexible, risk-based method which applies the greatest scrutiny where it is most needed. Providers with a strong track record in managing quality and standards are reviewed less frequently and less intensively than providers without such a strong record. It is carried out by peer reviewers - staff and students from other providers - and culminates in the publication of a report containing judgements and other findings. 

Students are at the heart of Higher Education Review: they are full members of QAA's peer review teams, and there are also opportunities for students to take part in the review by contributing a student submission, meeting the review team, and working with their providers in response to review outcomes.

Goldsmiths' Action Plan, addressing the features of good practice, the affirmations and the recommendations from the June 2015 Review, was developed in partnership with our Students’ Union and monitored and updated until all actions were complete. Download our final Action Plan [PDF download], approved by Academic Board in December 2017.

The European dimension

In 1999, the Bologna Declaration was signed by member countries of the European Union to work towards a European Higher Education Area by 2010. This aimed to establish a framework for greater transparency and comparability of higher education qualifications across Europe, to enable greater mobility of students, staff and employees. The three priorities of the Bologna process are the introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate), quality assurance and recognition of qualifications and periods of study.

One of the most important developments in quality assurance has been the adoption of the European Standards and Guidelines as a pan-European model. Both this and the European Quality Framework have many similar features and are generally compatible with UK models, though there are still some differences of approach with regard to credit recognition. The emergence of the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) for Quality Assurance has been seen as an important step towards realising the European Higher Education Area by creating more transparency and accountability in the area of quality assurance.

Goldsmiths’ quality assurance policies and procedures are consonant with the QAA’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education and the European Standards and Guidelines. To ensure absolute alignment, practice at Goldsmiths has been mapped against the European Standards and Guidelines [PDF download].