Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ARACIS)

The review will evaluate the way in which and to what extent the Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ARACIS) fulfills the criteria for ENQA membership and thus the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. The evaluation is scheduled to finish September 2018.

Background and context
ARACIS was established in 2005 by Government Emergency Ordinance, approved by the Parliament as Law in 2006, to enhance QA in Higher Education according to the ESG 2005. ARACIS also took over accreditation of study programmes and institutions from the former Romanian National Council for Academic Evaluation and Accreditation. ARACIS is an independent, autonomous public institution of national interest, funded from evaluation fees paid by HE institutions on contract-based relations, and from projects. The external evaluation Methodology was developed by ARACIS and approved by Governmental Decision No.1418/2006, initiated by the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research.

ARACIS’ mission is to carry out the external quality evaluation of education provided by higher education institutions and by other organizations providing higher education study programmes, operating in Romania, with the aim of:

  • Evaluating, according to quality criteria and standards, the capacity of education providers to fulfil the beneficiaries’ expectations;
  • Contributing to the development of an institutional culture of higher education quality;
  • Assuring the protection of direct beneficiaries of study programmes at higher education level by producing and disseminating systematic, coherent and credible information, publicly accessible, about education quality;
  • Proposing to the Ministry of National Education strategies and policies of permanently improving higher education quality, in close correlation with pre-university education.

The current activity is performed according to the “Methodology for quality assurance, provisional authorization and accreditation of study programs and of higher education institutions”. Quality evaluation activities are detailed in the Guide approved by the Council. Evaluation of master Study Domains has been initiated following a procedure which is still in progress to be finalized. In addition to information presented in the ARACIS FOLLOW-UP REPORT – SEPTEMBER 2015, and in “further clarifications letter” sent to ENQA on January 2016, the “Procedures for accrediting/periodic external evaluation of the Master study programmes” were approved and applied from 28.04.2014 (available here).

Work on the detailed procedure for Master Study domains is still in progress. The Specific Procedure for the External Periodic Evaluation of Accredited Master Study domains (in the following parts of the document shall be referred to as the “Specific Procedure” or (SP)) was approved in 2014 by Ministerial Order, Published in the Official Gazette, Part I nr.236/2014: The detailed ARACIS Procedure, following the approval of the Specific Procedure, was approved by ARACIS Council to make operational the provisions of the Specific Procedure approved by Ministerial Order. This document was published on the ARACIS webpage (in Romanian).

The roll out of the Specific Procedure is in its initial phase and full implementation is scheduled to be finalized in 2018. The agency shall draft and publish reports on evaluation of Master domains when the methodology for accreditation and evaluation of master domains has been finalized and is being rolled out. These reports would not always be connected with institutional evaluations, mainly because the evaluation of Master domains shall be still performed at different moments of time. At the moment, we estimate that evaluation of Master domains will begin to be performed together with evaluations of institutions in 2 year time.

The new Methodology based on ESG 2015 has been drafted and is now in process to be finalized together with external stakeholders – students’ unions, representatives of employers. The Guide, which details quality evaluation activities as per new Methodology based on ESG 2015, shall be approved by the Council.

ARACIS has been partner in several international projects and cooperation with ENQA and other QA agencies such as IMPALA _EACEA _LLL Project: Impact Analysis of Quality Assurance, AQUA-TS: exchange of good practice in VET quality indicators, EACEA_LLL Project, participation in ENQA Working Groups of Staff Development and Excellence. Collaboration with other agencies was stimulated by ARACIS membership in CEENQA, which proposed international experts within the framework of the project “Qualitas” (2014-2015) funded from EU funds. Cooperation with agencies members of Quality Audit Network (QAN) indentified common areas of interest and led to a joint publication. Several common activities, such as those with l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie – AUF and under the framework of Pro Didactica Project 2016 – 2018 have been dedicated to the training of Evaluators and Staff of the National Agency for Quality Assurance in Professional Education – ANACIP, R. of Moldova.

In addition, ARACIS has evaluated 17 Study Programs in Law studies in the Republic of Moldova (2014) finalized by a transversal report in 2015.

ARACIS has been a full member of ENQA since 2009 and is applying for renewal of ENQA membership for the second time. The previous ENQA coordinated review was performed in 2013 and successfully finalized with recommendations. The ENQA Board requested a follow-up report by October 2015 on the actions ARACIS has undertaken to meet the recommendations. In particular, ARACIS was encouraged to strive for greater transparency, communicating its findings to non-specialist audiences, publishing more information about itself, on its website and in ways that make that information more readily available. It was mentioned that the next external review will give special attention to these points. After answering clarifications requested by the ENQA Board regarding the follow-up report, at its meeting on 16 February 2016, the ENQA Board considered the letter from ARACIS (dated 27 January 2016) that had been requested on 20 November 2015 concerning the involvement of students in quality assurance procedures at ARACIS. The Board acknowledged the letter and took note that full implementation concerning standard 2.4 of the ESG will be in place by 2018.

ARACIS has been registered on EQAR since 2009 and is applying for renewal of registration for the second time. The first renewal application was accepted in 2014.

The Register Committee considered the Substantive Change Report of 3/3/2016. The Register Committee sought and received clarification from ARACIS on some matters (request of 18/05/16 and response of 13/06/16). The Register Committee took note of the changes in the composition of the ARACIS Council. The Committee welcomed the now broader representation of different stakeholder backgrounds on the Council. The Register Committee took note of the newly established procedures for the (I.) external evaluation of Master Study domains, (II.) accreditation of a new Master Study domain and (III.) inclusion of a new Master Study programme in an accredited Master Study domain.

The Register Committee welcomed ARACIS’ clarification as to the publication of the relevant procedures and criteria (re. II. & III.), as well as the explanation of how they correspond to the ESG. As the documents are not published in English, the Register Committee could not analyse the way in which the relevant procedures and criteria are published and clear. The Committee therefore underlined that the next external review of ARACIS (for renewal of registration on EQAR) should pay due attention to the way in which the relevant criteria and procedures are published (see standards 2.3 and 2.5, ESG 2015), next to the remaining standards of the ESG 2015.

Review process
The process is designed in the light of the Guidelines for ENQA Agency Reviews and in line with the requirements of the EQAR Procedures for Applications.

The evaluation procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Formulation of the Terms of Reference and protocol for the review;
  • Nomination and appointment of the review panel;
  • Self-assessment by ARACIS including the preparation of a self-assessment report;
  • A site visit by the review panel to ARACIS;
  • Preparation and completion of the final evaluation report by the review panel;
  • Scrutiny of the final evaluation report by the ENQA Review Committee;
  • Analysis of the scrutiny by the ENQA Board and their decision regarding ENQA membership;
  • Follow-up of the panel’s and/or ENQA Board’s recommendations by the agency, including a voluntary follow-up visit.

Review panel
The panel is composed of the following members:

  • David William Cairns, Independent Higher Education and Quality Assurance consultant, Director of Quality Assurance Research for Higher Education Ltd, Director of Academic Audit Associates Ltd, United Kingdom – Chair, quality assurance professional (ENQA nominee)
  • Agnes Leinweber, Programme Manager, German Accreditation Council (GAC), Germany – Secretary, quality assurance professional (ENQA nominee)
  • Hannele Marjatta Niemi, Professor of Education, University of Helsinki, Finland – Academic (EUA nominee)
  • Simona Dimovska, Master student at Iustinianus Primus Law Faculty, University Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia – Student (ESU nominee)

This review is being coordinated by Agnė Grajauskienė.

ARACIS’ self-assessment report is available here. The annexes of the SAR are available for download here.