Principles of External Reviews
An external review against the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) is a prerequisite for application to become a member of ENQA. It is also a requirement for agencies wishing to apply to the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR), as set by the Bologna Process Communiqué of London, 2007:
applications for inclusion on the [European Quality Assurance Register] should be evaluated on the basis of substantial compliance with the ESG, evidenced through an independent review process endorsed by national authorities, where this endorsement is required by those authorities.
As of 1 July 2011, most reviews of agencies wishing to apply for or reconfirm their membership in ENQA are coordinated by ENQA in order to guarantee a higher level of consistency of the reviews. However, ENQA also accepts reviews coordinated by other entities for membership applications. In cases where the review is not conducted by ENQA, the agency should provide the ENQA Secretariat with the identity and contact details of the body coordinating the review before the start of the process. According to ENQA’s Rules of Procedure, the draft terms of reference and the review panel should be approved by the ENQA Board, so that compatibility with the requirements of the ENQA Agency Review guidelines can be verified. This is to help ensure that the outcomes of the review process meet the requirements of the ENQA Board in assessing compliance with the ESG.
Certain elements will be required of a review for it to be acceptable to the ENQA Board to demonstrate that the agency is in compliance with the ESG, namely:
- The management of the review process must be completely independent of the agency itself.
- All parts of the review’s management and process must be transparent and therefore easily open to examination by the ENQA Board.
- The report produced must be sufficiently detailed to provide satisfactory assurance to the ENQA Board of the robustness of the review.
- The report must provide sufficient, verified information which clearly shows how the agency understands the requirements of the ESG and complies with them.
- A reciprocal review process, where two agencies organise the review of each other, is not permissible, because this method is unlikely to meet the requirements of externality and independence and may give rise to conflicts of interest.
N.B. In case of reviews not coordinated by ENQA, the Secretariat will not be in the position of providing personalised support to the agency under review and/ or the review panel.
The review will be based on the following principles:
- The review is an evidence-based process carried out by independent experts.
- The information provided by the agency is assumed to be factually correct unless evidence points to the contrary.
- The review is a process of verification of information provided in the self-assessment report (SAR) and other documentation and the exploration of any matters which are omitted from that documentation.
- The process is transparent, and outputs are published.
- The level of conformity with the ESG required for ENQA membership is that of “substantial compliance”, not rigid adherence.