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Keeping checks on university standards – an insider look

You’ll be regularly assessed as part of your degree studies, but ever wondered who’s assessing the assessors? QAA is there to do just that – here’s what’s involved.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the independent body entrusted with monitoring, and advising on, standards and quality in UK higher education. Universities and colleges must pass their reviews to get government support, including student loan funding.

Quality assurance explained

Every university or college carries out its own quality checks on a regular basis. QAA conducts an independent review of each of them at least once every six years, to check that they meet the expectations of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (Quality Code). Review teams are typically made up of five people. One reviewer is always a student, and all will have professional expertise in UK higher education.

After each of these review visits, QAA publishes a detailed report stating our findings and recommendations for improvement. If anything isn't right, the university or college is asked to draw up an action plan, and we return later to check that progress is underway.

All reports are available for anyone to look at, so it’s a good idea to check out the latest reports for any universities or colleges. This will tell you what they perform well on and the areas highlighted for improvement.

Before you go to university or college

So how do you use this information before you head off to university? Here’s how it can help:

Helping you to make the right choice

Choosing the best university or college for your studies can seem like a daunting prospect: no two universities or colleges are the same.
 
QAA institution reports give you official information about the quality of teaching and academic standards at each UK university or college. They can help you make the right choice – inspiring some questions to ask at a university open day, for instance, or as extra questions to ask at an entry interview.
 
You’ll be able to see:
  • what the university or college generally does well
  • where it needs to improve
  • a judgement on whether it has met nationally agreed expectations

Look for the quality mark

QAA has two marks to look out for which show that a higher education provider has had a successful review by QAA. This means that you can be confident that providers displaying these marks have been subject to rigorous external scrutiny. Look out for the Quality Mark on the websites of universities or publicly funded colleges of further education. If you are viewing the websites of private providers, or colleges which are not publicly funded, then look for the QAA Review Graphic.
 

What about when you are at university or college?

If you’re not happy with the quality of teaching, facilities or course structure once you’re at university, there are steps you can take.

The first thing you should do is to raise it with your university or college – they will have their own internal procedure for dealing with complaints. If you’re still unhappy with the outcome, you have two options:

1. If the complaint relates to how you have been treated as an individual you should contact the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (in Scotland, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman) to ask them to review your complaint
2. If your concern is about a serious systemic or procedural problem related to academic standards, quality or the provision of information at this university or college, you should contact QAA through our Concerns Scheme. You will be asked to supply documentary evidence, including a letter showing the outcome of your internal complaint.

Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from QAA, an independent body set up to safeguard standards and improve the quality of UK higher education.
 

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