Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions: Abstract by Dr. Andrée Sursock

 

The changing context of quality assurance in Europe

Dr. Andrée Sursock, Deputy Secretary General, European University Association

This paper focuses on some of the current change drivers in higher education in Europe, and their impact on quality assurance processes.

European higher education is facing combined and contradictory pressures: the Lisbon objectives and the Bologna reforms, the issues of broadening and widening access, the need to develop excellence in research, the stagnating or declining public HE funding and the need to diversify funding sources in the context of globalisation and internationalisation.

Depending on the institution, these pressure points are leading to either mission overload or differentiation as universities are becoming increasingly aware that in order to compensate for the retreat of the State they need to respond better to other stakeholders in order to survive and flourish. In the best cases, institutions have become more aware of the need to be strategic in their positioning and have been developing internal quality processes to assist them in achieving their strategic goals.

Up to now, external QA processes seemed to be lagging behind these changes principally because they have been responding to national agendas and lacked – for the most part – an adequate vision of the international policy context. This, however, is rapidly changing in Europe. The major driver for this change has been the Bologna Process that has given, progressively, increased importance to QA as a major driver for building the European Higher Education Area. This is leading to a change in outlook as QA agencies are confronting their differences at European level both in terms of their procedures and their national higher education context, which raise questions as to how trust can be built in the face of such national diversities.

At the same time, the Lisbon objectives of positioning Europe as the most competitive knowledge economy in the world is driving an agenda focused less on coherence and convergence and more on competition and excellence. This agenda is in the process of being closely linked to the Bologna Process even though the underlying values are vastly different. The articulation of the two processes has not yet been made in the QA area but it is expected that when this will happen it will lead to greater attention to mission-driven evaluations.

In effect, these changes are an opportunity for higher education institutions to be positioned to set the agenda for their external evaluations.