Exploring multiple dimensions of internationalisation and quality assurance at EQAF 2023

By Eva Fernandez de Labastida (Unibasq, Spain) and Ulf Hedbjörk (UKÄ, Sweden) – Members of the EQAF Programme Committee

The 2023 European Quality Assurance Forum (EQAF) took place from 23 to 25 November, kindly hosted by the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and addressing the topic of “Internationalisation in a changing world: New trends and challenges for Quality Assurance”. During three intense days, 447 participants from 51 countries contributed actively to a very successful Forum.

This year’s EQAF combined sessions with different formats (plenary sessions, workshops, paper and practice presentations) about European policies and trends, research, and presentations related to internationalisation and current developments in quality assurance.

EQAF 2023 opened with a keynote address by Hans de Wit on the role of quality assurance in internationalisation and of internationalisation in quality assurance. It was a good starting point giving an overview of the internationalisation of higher education, including some tools developed to assess its quality (like the CeQuInt certificate) and how internationalisation impacts quality assurance. It was followed by two days of engaging discussions on topics including cross-border external quality assurance, the European University Alliances, the role of quality assurance in cooperation beyond Europe, the future of the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), and different forms of mobility.

EQAF 2023 offered the opportunity to discuss how to innovate in quality assurance according to the different priorities of various stakeholders involved in the internationalisation of higher education (students, academic staff, quality units, international offices, and quality assurance agencies), and how to internationalise quality assurance itself. The Forum also provided excellent networking opportunities for the actors involved in higher education and a space to exchange different perspectives.

Members and affiliates of ENQA were well represented at the event and made much-appreciated contributions as presenters, panel members, session chairs, and active participants. For example, in line with ENQA’s outreach to quality assurance networks beyond the EHEA, ENQA’s President, Douglas Blackstock, and Director, Anna Gover, discussed in a session the necessity to protect the interests of students on transnational education programmes, through increased transparency and harmonisation between regional quality assurance frameworks and use of existing tools, such as the ESG, the OECD-UNESCO guidelines on cross-border higher education, and the QACHE toolkit.

Several presentations and workshops engaged participants in lively discussions on different approaches to the quality assurance of and in European Universities – a clear hot topic under the theme of internationalisation. It appeared that at the current state of development, some alliances opt for a ‘lean’ quality assurance model, relying on trust in the institutions’ own quality assurance procedures, whereas others are more ready to embrace existing tools such as the European Approach for the Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes or the EUniQ model for the quality assurance of university alliances. These choices may put more or less emphasis on the ‘jointness’ of quality assurance approaches, which may in turn have implications, for example, for the added value for students of joint courses or programmes.

To close the Forum, the presidents of EUA, ENQA, EURASHE and ESU discussed the future of the European quality assurance framework and its importance to European and global cooperation in higher education. The discussion thus reconnected to the opening keynote, pointing to increased internationalisation of quality assurance frameworks and practices as a fruitful way forward.

Eva Fernandez de Labastida and Ulf Hedbjörk were ENQA’s representatives on the EQAF Programme Committee for 2023. The Committee is charged with deciding the theme, developing session concepts, identifying speakers and selecting contributions for the Forum. The Committee is composed of representatives of ENQA, EUA, EURASHE and ESU, as well as an independent academic advisor. Presentation and papers from EQAF 2023 are available here. EQAF 2024 will take place on 14-16 November, hosted by the University of Twente, the Netherlands.

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