The QT – News and Views from QQI (November 2020)

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Just Published: Quality in Irish Higher Education 2020 and Quality in Action in Irish Higher Education 2020

October saw the publication of two reports focused on quality assurance in the Irish higher education sector – Quality in Irish Higher Education 2020 and its companion document, Quality in Action in Irish Higher Education 2020.

Quality in Irish Higher Education 2020

Every year, each Irish public higher institution (HEI) provides QQI with an Annual Institutional Quality Assurance Report (or AIQR), which contains details of that institution’s internal quality assurance system. Quality in Irish Higher Education 2020 is a synthesis report based on the 21 AIQRs submitted by the public HEIs in February 2020; it is the fourth such report to be published as part of the QQI Insights series and covers the period from 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019.

The report focusses primarily on qualitative accounts of quality assurance (QA) and quality enhancement (QE) across the public higher education sector during this period and shares examples of good practice, highlighting themes and key areas of focus for the publicly regulated HEIs.

Key themes evident across policies and procedures drafted, implemented, and revised during this period included programme provision, approval, and review, blended and online learning and academic integrity and plagiarism. Institutions also drew attention to a number of external factors that impacted activities during the reporting period, amongst them funding and – for the institutes of technology – preparations for designation as autonomous awarding bodies.

Given that the AIQRs were submitted directly before the closure of institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be remiss not to consider the significant impact of the ensuing period of ‘lockdown’ on the Irish higher education system. For that reason, the report also includes an overview of QA and QE impacts and enhancements, as discussed with HEIs during QQI’s periodic quality dialogue meetings in July 2020.

Quality in Action in Irish Higher Education 2020

As part of this year’s submission process, QQI identified core themes with national and international relevance and invited each institution to submit up to three case studies illustrating practice in the following ten areas:

  • Process of levelling qualifications on the NFQ (DABs)
  • Teaching, Learning & Learner Assessment [and/or technological enhancements]
  • Learner Experience [engagement, impact, national and international]
  • Research – Ensuring Quality and Impact
  • Academic Integrity
  • Assessing the impact of research
  • Engagement and Collaboration – with Industry; Societal/Civic Engagement
  • Widening access, progression and RPL
  • Transnational Education
  • Developing QA for merging or newly established institutions

A selection of case studies was incorporated into the main synthesis report, but all of the case studies received have been published in their full and unabridged form in the supplementary document, along with a number of case studies extracted directly from the AIQRs in the collection.

Read our press release and find links to both publications here[1].

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Engagement with Professional Bodies

Consultation launched on new Principles for Accreditation and other Professional Engagements

QQI’s ongoing programme of engagement with professional, regulatory and statutory bodies in Ireland continues with the publication of a draft set of principles on accreditation and other professional engagements between PSRBs and higher education institutions.

Towards Principles for Accreditation and other Professional Engagements outlines processes to be adopted which are based on common principles of proportionality, risk, transparency, collegiality, enhancement, necessity and shared responsibility, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness.

It is hoped that increased engagement and sharing of information will lead to a better understanding by all parties of each other’s roles, and will increase confidence and trust among all stakeholders involved in the academic validation and professional accreditation of programmes of education and training.

QQI’s work in this area over the last two years aims to enhance engagement and information sharing and reduce the burden of accreditation and other related activities on both PSRBs and HEIs.

QQI is currently seeking feedback on the principles. The consultation will be open until end December 2020, and feedback can be submitted to QQI through this form[2].

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Extension of COVID-19 Mitigation Measures for Providers of QQI Awards

QQI’s Policies and Standards Committee (PSC) has approved the extension until the end of August 2021 of the Covid-19 mitigatory measures [3]originally approved in March. These include approval for programmes currently being delivered online / blended without having been validated for this mode of delivery, to continue in these modes to end of August 2021.

In recognition of the current difficulties in obtaining work placement for learners, the PSC has also agreed that the certification rules (mandatory components) of some CAS major awards may be changed to allow an alternative component to be used where work experience or work practice are not achievable.

The current list of modified awards and the relevant alternative components is available here[4]. This may be added to as providers make additional requests to QQI for modifications to awards. (An example of such a change is 5M2102 Business Studies[5], where 5N2985 Personal and Professional Development is now included as an option in the pool with Work Experience and Work Practice).

Awards where the achievement of learning outcomes ‘on-the-job’ is essential e.g. healthcare and childcare vocational areas, are not included in the list.

The award rule change will require appropriate programme changes to ensure the alternative learning outcomes are delivered and assessed. Such changes are covered by the current Covid-19 mitigatory measures mentioned above.

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QQI Blended Learning Seminar II: Assessment in a Blended Learning Environment

The second event in the QQI Blended Learning Seminar Series ‘Assessment in a Blended Learning Environment from the humanities perspective’ took place on Wednesday 4th November 2020.  This seminar series is focused on supporting the QA practitioner in a blended online learning environment. Dr Mary Kelly and Ms Aisling Reast from Hibernia College and Dr Melanie Ní Dhuinn from Trinity College Dublin presented at the seminar, which was chaired by Dr Peter Cullen, QQI.

The presentations included:

  • Overview of Assessment in a Blended Learning Environment[6] presented by Dr. Mary Kelly, Head of the School of Education at Hibernia College. Dr Kelly provided an introduction to some key principles in designing authentic online assessments which support teaching and learning in a blended environment. This presentation also looked at how institutions have had to reconceptualise how we assess students in a meaningful way, meeting the learning outcomes, ensuring that we can validate the progression of students and the awarding of credits.
  • Online Assessment Quality Assurance – a case study’[7] during which Ms Aisling Reast, Registrar at Hibernia College, discussed quality assurance processes underpinning assessment at Hibernia College and, in particular, how the College adjusted the operation of one particular assessment, once it became clear that modifications were required due to the public health restrictions in place this year.

A number of questions were raised during the seminar and links shared, all of which are available here[8]. A recording of this seminar can be viewed here[9].

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FraudS+: False Records, Altered Diploma and Diploma Mills Qualifications Collection

The NARIC Ireland team at QQI have commenced work in an Erasmus+ project led by CIMEA (ENIC-NARIC) Italy to be conducted over a two-year period.

FraudS+, an Erasmus+ funded project led by CIMEA (ENIC-NARIC) Italy, aims to establish a database of anonymised, confirmed, falsified qualifications and qualifications issued by diploma mills, received by project partner ENIC-NARIC centres of Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Core activities of the project include identification and scanning of fraudulent certificates to a central database and raising students’ awareness on the phenomenon of fraud in education.

This project will add to and complement the work of QQI with stakeholders in relation to academic integrity. NARIC Ireland welcomes assistance from providers and stakeholders in provision of sample material identified. The team will be seeking support from providers and will be in contact by email in the coming months. Further information is available from NARIC Ireland at[10]

This two-year project will build on a previous project, FraudScan, undertaken by CIMEA Italy[11]

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Empowerment and Partnership in Student Engagement – Conference

Empowerment and Partnership in Student Engagement is an online conference, hosted by the National Student Engagement Programme, and Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

Bringing together several strands in the national endeavour to enhance student engagement, the conference will be guided by three main themes – Provocative PartnershipsImpact and Embedding Student Partnerships in Higher Education – and through these themes, we will explore the interrelated concepts and priorities of student engagement.

With an opening address delivered by Simon Harris TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, this conference will feature a series of keynote speakers including:

  • Dr. Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (Lecturer in Curriculum at University of Sydney)
  • Ms. Sophia Abbot (PhD in Education at George Mason University, USA)
  • Dr. Cathy Bovill (Senior Lecturer in Student Engagement in the University of Edinburgh),
  • Ms. Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (Vice-President of Higher Education for the National Union of Students UK),
  • Ms. Gohar Hovhannisyan (Vice-President of the European Students’ Union),
  • Mr. Sjur Bergan (Head of the Council of Europe’s Education Department)
  • Ms. Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of the Union of Students in Ireland

Co-chairs for the sessions include Professor John O’Halloran, Interim President of UCC and Mr Kevin McStravock, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Ms Frances O’Connell, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Registrar at AIT and Dylan Scanlan, PhD candidate at UL.

From empowering students and staff to collaborate and to co-create impact in enhancement, to embedding partnership in quality assurance and enhancement processes, this event will be a day of active engagement with – and considered reflection on – the effectiveness of our endeavours.

Against a background of pandemic restrictions impacting on traditional programme delivery and the student experience, a focus on the topic of student empowerment and partnership has never been more timely.

Register your place at the conference here[12].

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Looking Back – National Academic Integrity Week 2020

In October, QQI in support of the work of the National Academic Integrity Network (NAIN) assisted the network in hosting the first National Academic Integrity Week involving both national and international workshops and webinars.

There were a total of 14 talks, panel discussions and webinars throughout the week, hosted by NAIN HEIs, the Irish Universities Association, ENAI[13][1] and ICAI[14].

From the feedback coming in during the week as well as immediately after it, it is clear that the week’s events really struck a chord and stimulated a lot of reflection and thinking on what academic integrity is, how it can be fostered within and across institutions, how students can be supported and protected from the lure of academic misconduct, and how managing any sanctioning of misconduct needs to be carried out following open and accessible policies and procedures.

There were such a range of sessions – exploring ethical behaviour and how to instil and nurture this, student viewpoints on how they can support each other and be supported by institutional approaches, robust assessment approaches which mitigate the risk of misconduct, information on supporting students, especially from the clutches of contract cheating companies, ideas on how to integrate academic integrity considerations into all the decision-making within an institution. We discussed the era of fake news and its impact on upholding academic integrity, the importance of open and repeated discussion of academic integrity issues and the far-reaching negative consequences to students of any engagement with this type of activity, most seriously with these companies.

One thing that was clear throughout the week was the real interest from participants in knowing more, of learning and understanding academic integrity better and how to implement and embed good practice within institutions.

As part of the week’s activities, the second NAIN webinar, Fostering Academic Integrity in the Classroom[15], was delivered by Dr Tricia Bertram Gallant, (University of California San Diego) an internationally reknowned expert in this field. The suggestions she made, the challenges she posed, the pedagogical approaches she advocated in terms of opportunities for learning and assessment of this learning, were at once illuminating and thought-provoking.

The week also saw the launch by NAIN of the national student academic integrity campaign, which was designed to provide information and support for students nationwide. We think it looks great and delivers its message with impact, so please take a look, watch the video and share with your students, collleagues, and anyone else you can think of. You can find more about this here.

Finally, if you somehow missed any or all of the events, fear not: we are busily collecting recordings and slides from the events – once ready, we will make these available on the NAIN webpage[16] for you to watch in your own time.

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QQI Quality Assurance Re-engagement Process: Thematic Analysis Published
QQI’s re-engagement process has been developed to enable existing private and independent providers to have their QA (previously agreed with legacy awarding bodies) approved by QQI under the QQI quality assurance arrangements.

QQI has now published a document outlining a thematic analysis of the re-engagement process, and providing a summary overview and evaluation of 32 re-engagement panel reports for the period September 2018 to February 2020.

The report takes into account both the experience of providers that have successfully completed the process and those currently taking part in the process. The views of panel members have also been collected through questionnaires and interviews and are also reflected in this report.

The panels used in this QA process have comprised HE and FET experts working together, so in the context of a unified, tertiary education system, the re-engagement process is serving to support learning and understanding between and across the sectors. The approach adopted by QQI supports a peer learning approach and a general raising of the knowledge and expertise base across FET and HE. The process is further supported by peer learning events, publication of reports, and the inclusion of staff from different colleges across the system. The thematic analysis report is in itself a good source of feedback for all providers interested in quality enhancement.

Summary Findings
This analysis finds the QQI re-engagement process to be fit for purpose and a positive experience
leading to improvements in quality assurance. Furthermore, it concludes that most providers in
Ireland participating in the re-engagement process require some improvements to meet the QQI
criteria. These improvements most commonly concern governance and management of QA and the
QA documentation.

Ninety-five people (panel members and providers) took part in the online survey which supported feedback on the process. 100% of providers agreed that the re-engagement process was helpful in improving QA. 77% of providers agreed that there was adequate and clear documentation available from QQI to complete the process. 91% of respondents agreed that having informal and formal access to QQI staff for advice and clarifications was an invaluable aspect of the process.

96% of panel members had a positive experience with reengagement, while 89% agreed that the preparation phase of the process was fit for purpose. All panel members who have been involved in more than one re-engagement found the re-engagement process to have been consistent across all providers.

You can access the full report[17] here.


  1. ^ here (
  2. ^ this form (
  3. ^ Covid-19 mitigatory measures  (
  4. ^ here (
  5. ^ 5M2102 Business Studies (
  6. ^ Overview of Assessment in a Blended Learning Environment (
  7. ^ ‘Online Assessment Quality Assurance – a case study’ (
  8. ^ here (
  9. ^ here (
  10. ^ (
  11. ^ CIMEA Italy (
  12. ^ here (
  13. ^ ENAI (
  14. ^ ICAI (
  15. ^ Fostering Academic Integrity in the Classroom (
  16. ^ NAIN webpage (
  17. ^ full report (

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