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.

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