What is SPEAQ?
Working with 10 partners this project explored the ways in which quality in higher education is viewed and practised by three main stakeholder groups: students, academics and quality managers. The results of the initial data collection exercise which used semi-structured interviews and focus groups have been published on this website in the form of three synthesis reports, which summarise the results from all partners. Drawing on the results of these interviews with the three ‘quality circles’ the project partners developed small-scale projects which set out to act on feedback from the interviews with the three stakeholder groups. These projects aimed to improve the ways in which quality processes are implemented and experienced within higher education institutions and to facilitate connections and dialogue between the three quality circles. These projects have been very diverse as they were intended to respond to local issues, as well as to address more universal concerns, identified in the summary reports from year one. Examples of projects elaborated by the partners are:
- a student project as part of the curriculum
- peer mentoring
- restructuring processes for collecting student feedback for course evaluations
- listening to the international student voice
- a staff quality forum
- embedding the use of quality tools in professional development activities for staff
- student engagement with improving the quality of study programmes
- intra and cross-disciplinary collaboration on improving assessment
- creating online resources to improve the quality of staff and student feedback
What has been very encouraging in the outcomes of these projects has been their potential to bring about real and lasting change within the courses, faculties or institutions in which they have been applied. Most partners report that these projects have been a catalyst for change and that the activities they initiated will be sustained and in some cases extended over the coming year. Summaries of these projects and reports on their outcomes can be found in the resources section of this website.
Other outcomes from SPEAQ have included practical tools to support wider implementation of the project approach. These include a short workshop which was devised and run by all partners in order to provide a forum to discuss quality issues and to bring together members of all three ‘quality circles’ which is something which, our evidence shows, rarely happens in higher education. The workshop materials have been translated into French, German and Spanish and can be freely used and adapted. In addition the resources developed for each of the two implementation phases: data collection and projects have been produced as two sets of guidance notes which will help colleagues in other institutions to develop their own initiatives. These have also been translated into French, German and Spanish.
To sum up, quality in higher education is a wide and complex field encompassing both assurance (checking) and enhancement (improving) dimensions which are practised and viewed in a wide range of ways formal and informal, top-down and bottom-up. SPEAQ has effectively developed a reflective approach to issues of quality based on grassroots discussion and cooperation between key, but in some cases disengaged, stakeholders in the quality process and “has designed, tried and tested concrete activities which may support the overall aim of the European Higher Education Area and individual institutions of achieving a quality culture in higher education” (Anca Greere, project evaluator).
SPEAQ in the wider context
The SPEAQ project (Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality) is rooted in the objective of connecting teachers, students and quality managers with the aim of sharing and enhancing practice in higher education. However, its aims and structure are mirrored in the wider context of quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
The Bologna Process (the ministerial process that directs the implementation and development of the EHEA) held its biennial meeting of ministers of higher education in Bucharest in April 2012. One of the tasks of the ministers was to agree its Communiqué setting out the direction of travel over the next two years. One recommendation that it was asked to consider was to mandate the E4 group (i.e. the European University Association, the European Association for Institutions in Higher Education, the European Students’ Union and the European Association for Quality Assurance) to revise the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the EHEA (ESG). This followed the outcome of a project to review the ESG which suggested that, overall, they were fit for purpose but that they could be improved to make them even clearer and more user-friendly and to bring them up to date.
The ESG themselves mirror the structure of the SPEAQ project in that they are structured in three parts: part one are standards and guidelines for internal quality assurance and are thus of interest to higher education institutions, their teachers and students; part two are standards and guidelines for external quality assurance which will be of interest to institutional quality managers and to external stakeholders because of the public information provided by these processes and part three sets out the standards and guidelines to which the quality assurance agencies themselves must adhere. As quality assurance in higher education develops and moves forward in the 21st century, it is surely the relationship between these three areas that will allow higher education to face some of the challenges ahead. The SPEAQ project tried to exploit these relationships and to break down some of the barriers that currently exist between departmental, institutional and national level and between internal and external quality assurance processes.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.