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Special interview with Josep Grifoll, exiting ENQA Board member – what is it like to be an ENQA Board member?

6 October 2014

Outgoing ENQA Vice President and Board member Josep Grifoll (from AQU Catalunya) imparts his experiences, wisdom and advice for curious readers and those considering running for the ENQA Board.

Could you briefly tell us who Josep Grifoll is? How did he enter the world of QA and become a member of the ENQA Board? What is his daytime job?

I am an economist who was born in Catalonia to a family heavily involved in education. When I was young, my family lived in a house for teachers located on a big university campus. We lived surrounded by teachers from all scientific fields, from philosophers to nuclear physicists. Early on, I was able to recognise the value of the university, but I was also exposed to its complexities and understood that managing it is a difficult task. It was a fantastic experience, but when I received my degree in economics, I decided to explore other realities. Surprisingly, I left the university environment, and I was integrated into a Japanese car factory. That was a big change! At the production plant – which employed over 7,000 employees – I conducted job evaluations.

Later I returned to the university sector and, thanks to Gemma Rauret, I started to connect with the European QA family. I was fortunate when EVA (in Denmark) accepted me as an observer for one month. Finally, Javier Bara (the successor of Gemma at AQU Catalunya) suggested that I run as a candidate for the ENQA Board. My first reaction to Javier’s proposal was “it is not for me, it’s too complicated”, but he encouraged me nonetheless.

My daytime job is a bit different from a traditional QA officer with long days in front of his or her computer. In my opinion, jobs in the twenty-first century need to be conceived differently – not only because they must develop in harmony with new technologies, but in particular because continuing education is absolutely mandatory nowadays. The question is: how can we learn more in our jobs? My recommendations to QA officers include: make time to learn, have personal space to think and develop networking activities.

The risk of having QA agencies with too many mechanisms and operations and no time for analytical reflection is always there; agencies must be cautious of creating fatigue in what we are doing and of becoming organisations in which talented people are less interested to stay.

Based on your two 3-year terms as a Board member, could you please explain to us what is the role of a Board member? What does he/she do? How does he/she represent ENQA?

In my opinion, a Board member is a person who has three main roles. The first role is to always be aware of possible opportunities for developing the association; in other words, to produce questions, solutions and proposals for further consolidation of ENQA. The second role is following all the daily matters related to the association, including facilitating and supporting the ENQA staff and keeping apprised of membership issues, etc. Last, but not least, there is the role of representing ENQA in various activities at the international level. Communication and visibility in our time is essential.

The Board meets on average five times a year. Why do they meet so often, and what happens during these meetings? What do you usually discuss? Is it easy to reach an agreement on the discussed issues?

ENQA is an active organisation but with a limited amount of resources. There is a very professional team at the Secretariat, but the demand of services is so important that Board members are also required to be active in technical issues, particularly in the scrutiny of reviews of QA agencies.

Board member meetings have three main components. The first part involves policies; this is the time to consider new activities, documents, and strategies. The second part usually deals with membership issues. Finally, the last portion of the meeting is devoted to interacting with members (letters received from different organisations).

It is quite easy to reach agreement within the Board, but sometimes we have large, intellectual discussions concerning certain concepts that might affect the future work of ENQA.

How would you define the relationship of a Board member with the ENQA Secretariat? Do they work in close cooperation?

I would say the relationship is excellent. There is mutual support in all activities performed. In any case, we have to assume that Board members come and go, but the staff at the Secretariat are always there. They are very important for the future of the Association, and they all have my respect and best wishes for their professional careers.

How has ENQA evolved since you first started serving as a Board Member?

Probably the biggest change for ENQA was the consolidation of the Secretariat. This has provided new and stronger opportunities for the Association. In business terms, I supported the movement of the headquarters to Brussels, although I personally liked Helsinki very much, for different reasons. The location of the headquarters is important, but the human factor is the key to the success. From excellent individuals in the past, I have the feeling that now we have a solid and excellent team in Brussels.

As a Board member, you are expected to travel to different parts of the world to attend different types of higher education-related events. How would you describe the image of ENQA in other parts of the world? How is ENQA perceived? What do you usually present when you attend these events?

The reputation of ENQA is very positive overseas. This is beneficial for us as an organisation, but also for all EHEA players. In other parts of the world where states are considering the establishment of a regional higher education area, the value of ENQA as an international structure is highly appreciated. They particularly underline the value of ENQA as an independent actor and as a promoter of strategies.

My message overseas tries to present the reality as it is with all the positive things we share and use, but I also have to explain our current challenges and obstacles.

In any case, the language of quality assurance for higher education is much more universal than we imagine, particularly for the younger generations. In that respect, I highlight the interest of involving students in quality assurance.

As an ENQA Board member who has served the maximum of two 3-year terms, you must have had different kinds of experiences. Do you have an anecdote or a short story that you could share with us?<7b>

Is anybody aware of what quality assurance for higher education is? When you travel frequently you are exposed to mistakes. One day I had a dinner, and I mistakenly went to the wrong restaurant. By some chance I found myself seated with a group of people, of course, with no relation to European higher education. The funny point is that nobody in the group realised that I was an alien, except myself.

What have you enjoyed most as a Board member?

Professionally speaking, the best is when the work done is appreciated and considered useful for the ENQA members. Personally speaking, my best memories are always linked with this idea of being a member of a professional organisation, but with a particular soul and a positive environment. Sometimes professionalism invades personal spheres; in the family of ENQA, opportunities to bring our humanity to the professional side are always present, and this is of great value, feasible by this aspiration to work for the whole society.

Finally, would you have any tips or recommendations to future Board members?

I would like to point out that having time to devote to ENQA is very important. I would say a lot of time; but more important than that, one must enjoy the great experience of being involved in the generation of values affecting all ENQA members and even other stakeholders from the EHEA.

I have tried to do my best. The experience of being a Board member is for sure a precious treasure to me, and I am convinced that ENQA will gain new Board members with fresh ideas and renovated energy that will push the organisation towards even higher levels of quality.

Thank you very much for your time in the ENQA Board and best of luck for the future!