Higher education quality assurance

The Department's underpinning statutory responsibility to make provision for the assessment of the quality of provision that it funds are set out under Article 102 of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986.

Quality Assessment in Higher Education

A new approach to quality assessment will be implemented in Northern Ireland and England from academic year (AY) 2017-18 (during AY 2016-17 we tested and developed aspects of the new approach with the sector and students). The revised model has been developed following an extensive review of quality assessment undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Department for the Economy (DfE) in Northern Ireland, and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW).

The revised approach is designed to be proportionate, risk-based and grounded in the mission and context of an individual university or college and the composition of its student body. It will target regulatory activity on those institutions that represent greater risk to the student interest or to the reputation of the sector.

The core elements

The revised operating model consists of three core elements:

  • baseline regulatory requirements, with a single gateway for entry to the higher education system and a period of closer engagement and monitoring for recent entrants
  • risk-based and context-sensitive review arrangements for established providers, with rapid, tailored intervention when things go wrong
  • protection of the international reputation of UK higher education, including the quality assurance of transnational education

Annual Provider Review Outcomes

The outcomes of the annual provider review (APR) process for academic year 2016/17 are set out below:-

Institution UKPRN Provider status APR Outcome
Queen's 10005343 Established

Meets Requirements

Ulster 10007807 Established

Meets Requirements

Stranmillis 10008010 Developmental

Meets Requirements

St Mary's 10008026 Developmental

Meets Requirements

Belfast Met 10020680 Developmental

Meets Requirements

NRC 10020372 Developmental

Meets Requirements

SERC 10020699 Developmental

Meets Requirements

NWRC 10020634 Developmental

Meets Requirements

SWC 10020685 Developmental

Meets Requirements

SRC 10020633 Developmental

Meets Requirements

Details of the quality outcomes for individual English HE Providers can be found in the searchable Register of HE Providers on the HEFCE website.

More information on Welsh HE Providers can be found on the HEFCW website. 

Revised Quality Review Visit 

From February 2017, as part of the new approach, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will undertake Quality Review Visits on behalf of the Department for the Economy.

Quality Review Visit will:

  • rigorously test a new entrant's readiness to enter the higher education sector,
  • re-test the quality aspects of the baseline regulatory requirements at the end of a new entrant's four-year developmental period,​
  • re-test the quality aspects of the baseline regulatory requirements in an 'established' provider that has been deemed by the relevant funding body to require enhanced monitoring.

The outcomes of the Quality Review Visit will be considered by DfE. It will make full use of them in reaching its broader judgement about the provider’s readiness, or not, to enter the higher education sector, or to remain in, or exit the 'developmental period' as appropriate.

Quality Review Visit (QRV) Handbook and guidance

As part of this new approach the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) consulted on the hand book for Quality Review Visits. The consultation closed on the 24 October 2016 and a new handbook has been published:

Northern Ireland Quality Review Visit Briefing Note 2017/18

To provide QAA reviewers with a Northern Ireland context and to outline some of the key differences in data collection and institutional arrangements here compared to English HEIs and FECs the Department for the Economy produced the Northern Ireland QRV Briefing note. This should be read in conjunction with the QAA’s QRV handbook (above).

Survival Guide for Lead Student Representatives (LSRs)

Guidance has been written to provide lead student representatives with information about the Quality Review Visit method. The 'Survival Guide for Lead Student Representatives', provides an overview of the review process, including specific guidance about the role of the LSR.

UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA)

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University, has been appointed as Chair of the new UK-wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.

The committee will provide sector-led oversight of those aspects of quality assessment arrangements that continue to be shared across the UK. It will play a key role in promoting quality, standards, and the student interest, and will support a co-regulatory approach by bringing together academic expertise and students with regulatory and other bodies.

In October 2017, UKSCQA launched an extensive consultation on the UK Quality Code, which was co-ordinated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) on behalf of all members of UKSCQA.

The new Expectations and practices of the Code have now been published. These will form the basis of a fully revised UK Quality Code, which is scheduled for publication in late 2018. The Expectations and practices have benefited from valuable engagement across all four nations and the full diversity of the sector, throughout the consultation

Details of the consultation, an analysis of the responses and the resultant new UK Quality Code for Higher Education can be found on the UKSCQA website.

The QAA, on behalf of UKSCQA, will be working with the sector throughout 2018 to develop a full set of advice and guidance that will help assure higher education providers that they deliver programmes to the standard their students should expect. A series of workshops to aid with the development of the fine details will be held in all four regions during May 2018.

Revised Transnational Education Review

As part of the revised operating model for quality assessment the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) consulted on the method for quality assessing UK transnational education. Transnational Education (TNE) Review applies to all UK degree-awarding bodies offering higher education qualifications delivered entirely, or in part, oversees. The revised TNE Review Handbook is now available. 

Following agreement with the UK funding bodies, The Republic of Ireland, Hong Kong and Malaysia have been selected for the next three years of in-country reviews under the newly developed TNE Review method. Higher education providers will soon be notified about the timeline for TNE Review in the Republic of Ireland, starting with a survey of UK TNE provision in the country.

Further information on Quality changes

Further information on this work can be found at:

Or by contacting the Department's Higher Education Improving Quality branch:

How to raise an issue about Quality

The procedures set out on the HEFCE website will help you if you wish to raise serious issues about quality and standards which affect groups of students or a university or college as a whole.

The procedures are for students, staff or others with a direct knowledge of a university or college.

The Department does not resolve complaints or offer compensation to individuals. Students can raise individual complaints through their respective institutions complaints processes and, if they remain dissatisfied after completing the college or university’s complaints procedure, they can complain to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

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