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MPs pass plan for new quality assurance system

The Swedish parliament has backed the proposal of the education committee for a new model for quality assurance of higher education, to be implemented this autumn.

In the new model, the university chancellor will still be responsible for evaluating higher education, but also for ensuring that universities and colleges work out their own system of quality control. The committee called for the new system to be systematically monitored to check that it really is improving the quality of higher education.

The committee has made two recommendations to MPs: that parliament requests the government to provide follow-up monitoring every third year and that the university chancellor delivers a report each year on the progress made.

The committee has realised that the new system will make comparisons between higher education institutions more difficult, and so has made a special request to the government to work out methodologies for how best such comparisons can be made.

The proposal was passed in parliament with a majority of 187 votes against 124.

Previous system

The previous Alliance government introduced a new quality assurance model in 2011, based on the results from evaluation of the higher degree courses, as reported by University World News.

The evaluation of the courses was carried out using a combination of the written work of the students and a self-evaluation of the universities and colleges of their courses, and video-conference meetings between examiners and representatives of the university or college in question.

This evaluation was judged on a three-grade scale: not satisfactory quality, satisfactory quality and above satisfactory quality. Courses receiving 'not satisfactory' had a time-frame of one year to improve, or else the course was to be shut down.

In April 2012, more than 20% of 189 study programmes evaluated by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education were found to be ’not satisfactory’.

The consequences of students studying a course judged as 'not satisfactory' was not clarified in the law, and the system was challenged in court by a US student who had paid fees for a course that was then judged 'not satisfactory', as reported by University World News.

This system that was forced through by the Alliance government without consultation was heavily criticised and not accepted by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, or ENQA, established through the Bologna Process.

Sweden was then prevented from continuing as a member in 2012 as its quality assurance system was not in line with ENQA conditions – it had failed to comply with 11 out of 14 standards and guidelines of the European Higher Education Area – due to political interference in the process of its creation.

Proposals challenged

The work of the education committee has not been easy, and there are several minority proposals that are not endorsed by the majority of the committee.

But the present Minister of Higher Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, was determined to drive the proposal through parliament with the support of the Sweden Democrats.

Jan Björklund, leader of the Liberals and former minister of education in the Alliance government, in an article in Dagens Nyheter, demanded that the government withdraw the proposal to change the quality assurance system.

“It is incomprehensible that one is proposing to lower the evaluation of the quality of Swedish higher education by substituting external evaluation with internal evaluation. This simply will not work," Björklund said. "We in the Alliance are prepared to sit down and discuss, but it has to be based on an external evaluation."

But Hellmark Knutsson said the new system is “more complete".

"It both evaluates and controls but also supports the internal quality work at universities and colleges," she said.

Lena Adamson, director of the Swedish Institute for Educational Research, who analysed the process whereby Sweden was excluded from the ENQA in a paper in Science and Society, told University World News: "Quality happens in the interaction between teachers and students and the closer the quality assurance system is to this situation, the more reliable it will be.

"My experience is that programme evaluations that build on a set of overarching learning outcomes – such as the overarching qualifications framework of the European Higher Education Area – do drive quality stronger than quality assurance system evaluations. In that sense I agree with Björklund."

Related Links
Government does about-turn on HE quality assurance
Political meddling in quality assurance spells chaos
Row over ministry meddling and quality assurance blow
Quality assurance regime fails to meet European standards
University Chancellor resigns
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