Thematic analysis: What comes after the agency reports are published?

This analysis concentrates on quality assurance agencies’ approaches to follow-up (as required by ESG 2.3) and to complaints and appeals procedures (ESG 2.7) as part of their external quality assurance activities. It provides an insight into the variety of approaches across the European Higher Education Area as well as reflection on how panels identified these approaches in terms of showcasing the examples of good practice or persistent difficulty. For this purpose, the external review reports of 22 quality assurance agencies from 13 countries have been studied, including one agency operating at European level. The external reviews were conducted in the period of 2020-2022 and followed the review methodology of ENQA Agency Reviews.

On the agencies’ approach to follow-up, the paper emphasises that the follow-up should be present and meaningful across all types of procedures conducted by an agency and applicable to all evaluated programmes/institutions, regardless of the outcome of the original review procedure and/or whether the agency is itself responsible for any final decision. The two key findings in this regard are that the follow-up procedure should be an integral part of the original review process, and that panels particularly praise those follow-up processes that incorporate an enhancement aspect, rather than only checking the implementation of previous recommendations.

Regarding ESG 2.7, the paper identifies that a significant number of agencies still experience difficulties with the requirements of this standard, but the issues experienced are not the same for appeals as they are for complaints. For appeals, panels are recommending changes in the existing procedures whereas for complaints, the recommendations refer almost exclusively to the need to establish and/or formalise a complaints procedure. In addition, the analysis underlines the persistent confusion regarding the two terms, the possible reasons for this, and discusses the impact of the local legal framework, system, or cultural context on how the agency addresses the requirements of this standard.

While acknowledging the diversity of approaches implemented by the agencies for both topics covered by the study, the paper at the same time notes that the procedural nature of the standards (and the ESG as such) might be limiting the diversity of external QA approaches within the EHEA. Finally, the analysis also reveals some inconsistencies regarding the assessment made by ENQA panels and the need to continuously monitor this, as proven valuable by the establishment of the ENQA Agency Review Committee.

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