European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes

1 December 2014

Joint programmes are a hallmark of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). They are set up to enhance the mobility of students and staff, to facilitate mutual learning and cooperation opportunities and to create programmes of excellence. They offer a genuine European learning experience to students. Joint degrees express the “jointness” also in the awarding of the degree.

Why a European Approach
The implementation of joint programmes is still hampered by serious problems, amongst others around issues of recognition and quality assurance (QA). In those countries where programmes have to be approved by accreditation bodies or ministries, different national legislation and formal criteria represent one major obstacle. Such specific and sometimes contradictory national requirements inhibit cooperation in the development of joint programmes.

Over the past years, QA agencies and stakeholders have been working together to develop and test various approaches (see Background Report) that ease at least the external QA of joint programmes and, moreover, reflect their joint character. These have demonstrated that the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG), the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA) and the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) together form a sound basis for QA of joint programmes.

Despite the commitment of the Bucharest Communiqué (2012) “to recognise quality assurance decisions of EQAR-registered agencies on joint and double degree programmes”, the full recognition of formal outcomes resulting from a single external quality assurance procedure often remains a cumbersome and bureaucratic process. This often makes the conduct of several, fragmented processes the more practical solution and leads to a situation where different agencies all look only at the bits and pieces in “their” country.

The European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes has been developed to ease external quality assurance of these programmes: it defines standards that are based on the agreed tools of the EHEA, without applying additional national criteria. This is expected to facilitate integrated approaches to quality assurance of joint programmes, which genuinely reflect and mirror their joint character.

European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes (October 2014, endorsed by the BFUG, subject to approval by EHEA ministers)

Background Report by the Ad-Hoc Expert Group (August 2014)

Cover Letter to the BFUG (12 August 2014)

How It was Developed
In the Bucharest Communiqué (April 2012), ministers agreed on the following:

“We will allow EQAR-registered agencies to perform their activities across the EHEA, while complying with national requirements. In particular, we will aim to recognise quality assurance decisions of EQAR-registered agencies on joint and double degree programmes… We encourage higher education institutions to further develop joint programmes and degrees as part of a wider EHEA approach. We will examine national rules and practices relating to joint programmes and degrees as a way to dismantle obstacles to cooperation and mobility embedded in national contexts.”

The Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) consequently included in its work programme 2013-2015 the task to:

“Develop a policy proposal for a specific European accreditation approach for Joint programmes, which should be applied to all those Joint programmes that are subject to compulsory programme accreditation at national level.”

The BFUG commissioned a small ad-hoc expert group to draft such a policy proposal. The expert group was composed of:

  • Mark Frederiks (the Netherlands/ECA)
  • Achim Hopbach (ENQA)
  • Andrejs Rauhvargers (Latvia)
  • Colin Tück (EQAR)

The expert group presented this report and the proposal for a European Approach at several meetings of the BFUG Working Groups on “Structural Reforms” and “Mobility and Internationalisation” and revised the proposal based on the working groups’ feedback.

The final report and proposal were submitted to the BFUG in 2014. The proposal was endorsed by the BFUG in October 2014. It will be submitted for official approval by EHEA ministers at their conference in Yerevan, May 2015.