Rectors seek more responsibility for quality assurance

The German Rectors’ Conference or HRK has presented proposals for a new accreditation system for study programmes.

The proposals were adopted at the organisation’s general meeting in Mainz earlier this month.

The HRK would like to see accreditation work as an academically oriented procedure of quality assurance and accountability in the form of an audit and oriented on the European Standards and Guidelines, which were introduced in 2005 by higher education ministers representing the European Higher Education Area.

In Germany, the state government ministers of cultural affairs opted in 1998 for a nationwide Accreditation Council with the role of reviewing and approving agencies that would later on perform the accreditation of bachelor and masters degree programmes in the course of the Bologna reforms.

Acting for these agencies, external lecturers and students as well as professional representatives review study programmes and award those they deem appropriate the Accreditation Council’s quality seal. The council’s membership comprises government and higher education as well as professional representatives and foreign experts. The 10 agencies are run as private service providers.

The system has remained controversial. For instance, the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers calls it “expansive, bureaucratic, slow, inefficient, legally questionable and detrimental to institutional autonomy”.

Under the new HRK proposals, the agencies would be able to provide organisational services and act in an advisory capacity, but their involvement would not be obligatory. The Accreditation Council would be the decision-making institution for all procedures involved.

“The accreditation system has to be reformed in line with academic requirements,” notes HRK President Horst Hippler, referring to the Federal Constitutional Court requirement of last February.

“This means that academic representatives have to hold a majority in all committees. Of course the participation of students and professionals would be retained. Higher education institutions have to be able to assume more responsibility for the quality of their study programmes and must be involved to a greater degree than has been the case in conducting the accreditation procedure.”

Holger Burckhart, HRK vice-president for teaching, learning, teacher training and life-long learning, said institutions can judge for themselves whether they require the services of the agencies for their quality development. “We therefore demand that they be given the opportunity to decide on this and, should it be necessary, independently apply innovative methods.”

Hippler added that since HRK had submitted constructive proposals, “we expect the conference of cultural affairs ministers to come up with a reliable legal framework for the implementation of reforms as quickly as possible and to soon adopt the inter-state agreement that was already scheduled for October”.

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