A3ES - Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education

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Country: Portugal
Name in English: A3ES - Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education
National name: A3ES - Agência de Avaliação e Acreditação do Ensino Superior

Agency's position within the national higher education system

Description of the agency

The A3ES is responsible for the assessment and accreditation of higher education institutions and their degree programmes, and to promote the integration of Portugal in the European system of quality assurance of higher education. Current processes include ex-ante accreditation and ex-post assessment and accreditation of degree programmes (1st, 2nd and 3rd cycles). An institutional audit programme was set up starting on an experimental basis in the current academic year. The Agency has a R&D sector responsible for producing information and analyses about the Portuguese HE system and for developing research in the field of QA.

The history of the agency

The A3ES is the successor of the former Conselho Nacional de Avaliação do Ensino Superior (CNAVES) which operated in the period 1998-2006. The Agency was created by law in 2007, but its Administration Council was nominated in December 2008, starting to run the accreditation processes in 2009. The Agency is an Affiliate Member of ENQA and is now applying to an external review in order to acquire full membership status.

Other quality assurance agencies authorised to operate in the country

The Agency A3ES is the sole Agency with the authority to accredit higher education institutions and degree programmes in Portugal.

Legal framework

The Agency A3ES is a private law foundation, established for an indeterminate period of time, with legal status and recognised as being of public utility (Decree-Law no. 369/2007, of 5th November).

Independence

The Agency A3ES is independent in its decisions, without prejudice of the general requisites fixed by the State. The independence of A3ES entails, inter alias, the capacity of the Administration Council to make the final decisions regarding: the definition and approval of the guidelines for self-assessment and for external assessment of institutions and programmes; the nomination of review panels; the decisions on the individual accreditation processes. Moreover, the members of the Administration Council are appointed by the Agency’s Board of Trustees for a period of four years and cannot be removed during their terms of office.

Funding

The A3ES is not State-financed, apart from an initial endowment. Its income is generated through the services provided to institutions. Currently, the fees for the accreditation of a degree programme (which includes a site visit by the Review Panel in the case of programmes already in operation) is 3400 Euros.

Quality assurance procedures

Main procedures

Evaluation

  • Target institutions:
    • All higher education institutions
  • Target programmes:
    • Bachelor's programmes
    • Master's programmes
    • Associate degree programmes
    • Doctoral/Ph.D programmes

Quality Assurance Procedures

The assessment of degree programmes in operation is performed by a review panel of three to five experts, nominated by the Administration Council. Competence in the particular field of studies is a fundamental requisite to be nominated. At least one of the experts must be a foreign specialist. The law does not foresee the participation of students in the review panel, but the Agency is currently launching an experimental exercise of including one student in panels, except if the HEI opposes it. The Secretary of the panel is a Project Manager from the Agency. The assessment process includes: the preparation of a self-assessment report by the higher education institution, which is submitted in the Agency’s electronic platform; a site visit usually of two and an half days; the elaboration of a preliminary assessment report submitted by the review panel; the possibility of a response on the assessment report by the higher education institution; a final assessment report by the panel, which includes a recommendation to the Administration Council to accredit / not accredit / accredit with conditions the degree programme. All reports, responses and decisions are submitted into the platform, by means of available online guidelines/formularies.

Accreditation

  • Target institutions:
    • All higher education institutions
  • Target programmes:
    • Bachelor's programmes
    • Master's programmes
    • Associate degree programmes
    • Doctoral/Ph.D programmes

Quality Assurance Procedures The accreditation of a degree programme already in operation follows the procedures for self-assessment described in the previous section (evaluation). The decision on accreditation is made by the Administration Council, and it may follow or not the recommendation from the review panel, always on a grounded basis. The higher education institution has the possibility to appeal to the Appeal Council, which is an independent body within the Agency, composed by five members, two of them foreign. There is a fee for the appeal process. Each degree programme must be reaccredit every six years. For new degree programmes, there is a similar process, involving an expert panel, but there is no site visit.

Consequences of quality assurance and accreditation decisions

A new programme cannot start operating without a previous accreditation by the Agency. In the case of programmes in operation, a negative decision means that the programme is closed. In practice, that means that no new students may be enrolled into the programme and the institution may keep the programme for a maximum period of two years in order to allow enrolled students to finish the programme. The validity of the diplomas and degrees awarded before the no-accreditation decision was taken or awarded to the enrolled students is not affected.

Validity of the decision(s)

The normal period of validity for an accreditation decision is six years. However, a conditional accreditation decision may be issued, with a validity period of one to three years. Such a decision explicitly defines the conditions to be met at the end of the accreditation period. An assessment is then performed and a final decision of accreditation / no accreditation is made.


Publication policy

The Agency publishes in its webpage the final assessment reports, the responses from the institution and the decision (and respective grounds) of the decision made by the Administration Council, regardless of being a positive or negative decision.

(Legal) appeal system

As said above, the higher education institution may appeal to the Appeal Council. The Appeal Council may uphold or modify the decision of the Administration Council. The decision from the Appeal Council is final and may only be contested at the Courts.


Figures on Quality Assurance / Accreditation Procedures

New degree programmes

Data concerning 2011:

  • 428 proposals presented
  • 425 proposals with a decision from the Administration Council (3 were withdrawn by the institution)
  • 176 favourable decisions (41%)
  • 44 favourable with conditions (10%)
  • 205 unfavourable decisions (48%)
  • 13 decisions in disagreement with the panel (6 in favour the HEI, 7 against)
  • 22 appeals presented (the Appeal Council uphold 21 decisions of the Administration Council and changed one).

Degree programmes in operation

The first exercise of assessment/accreditation of degree programmes in operation is still proceeding. The final data will soon be available.

International activities

Member of international quality assurance networks / organisations

  • ECA
  • ENQA

Recognition of foreign qualifications

The recognition of foreign qualifications is a competence of the higher education institutions.