AQAS - Agency for Quality Assurance through Accreditation of Study Programmes

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Country: Germany
Name in English: AQAS - Agency for Quality Assurance through Accreditation of Study Programmes
National name: AQAS - Agentur für Qualitätssicherung durch Akkreditierung von Studiengängen e.V.

1. Agency's position within the national higher education system

AQAS e. V. (Agency for Quality Assurance through the Accreditation of study programmes, in German: Agentur für Qualitätssicherung durch Akkreditierung von Studiengängen) is an independent quality assurance agency situated in Cologne, Germany. AQAS is nonfield specific and its procedures are independent from states and members. AQAS carries out programme and system accreditation for the awarding of the seal of the Accreditation Council. AQAS is accredited by the German Accreditation Council until 2017. Moreover, AQAS conducts the accreditation and evaluation of joint and double degree programmes. AQAS is bound to the resolutions of the Accreditation Council. These are based on the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG).

1.1 Description of the agency

AQAS’ work extends across study subjects and higher education institutions and it considers itself an institution funded by higher education institutions and scientific associations for the purpose of quality assurance and development of teaching and learning at higher education institutions. The activities of the association aim to secure high educational quality in the area of higher education with consideration of national and European guidelines, to promote the international recognition of academic degrees and to contribute to the development of reliable and comparable quality assurance systems in the national and international context. AQAS accredits both study programmes and internal quality assurance systems, and has gained special expertise in the accreditation of study programmes for teacher training by accrediting teacher training programmes in several federal states. Furthermore AQAS has accredited numerous joint and double degree programmes with partners in different countries. The lame of AQAS is quality, transparence and comparability; a lame that AQAS has internalized in its daily work.

1.2 The history of the agency

AQAS is a nonprofit organization which was founded on 25 January 2002 on the initiative of the universities and universities of applied sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, and of the science ministries of both federal states. From the beginning on, the activities of AQAS were not to remain restricted to the federal states North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. Through continuous growth AQAS today has more than 80 member higher education institutions from all parts of Germany and operates nationally and internationally.

1.3 Legal framework

AQAS e. V. is a registered association with recognized charitable status. Its members include about 80 higher education institutions from all over Germany, as well as a scientific organization. AQAS was founded on 25 January 2002 with the legal status of a registered non-profit association and has been recognized as such since 13 May 2002 under No. VR 17554 in the register of associations of Cologne district court. The bodies of the agency comprise the general membership meeting, the management board, the accreditation commission for programme accreditation, the accreditation commission for system and the complaints commission. In 2012, AQAS was accredited by the Accreditation Council to continue its activities until 2017.

1.4 Independence

AQAS is independent from higher education institutions and professional or trade bodies. It is a high priority of AQAS to ensure impartiality of the reviewers and committees in the procedure. Thus there are specific requirements for reviewers to ensure their impartiality. In addition, the agency stipulates that both accreditation commissions act independently from the general membership meeting and thereby from the higher education institutions. Members of the committees are not involved in decisions affecting their own higher education institution. Additionally the Accreditation Commission for programme accreditation acts independent from the expert groups.

1.5 Funding

AQAS e. V. is a registered association with recognized charitable status. Thus it works not for profit. The costs of the procedures are charged to the higher education institutions.

2. Quality assurance procedures

2.1 Main procedures

In procedures for programme- or system accreditation, the individual accreditation commissions are the central decision-making committees of the agency. They decide upon the accreditation and the individual procedural principles and standards for the accreditation procedure. Both commissions ensure that the procedural principles for accreditation comply with laws and guidelines. A specific characteristic of AQAS is the opening of procedures through the accreditation commission including possible questions and concerns with reference to the procedure. Moreover the accreditation application can be revised before submitting the document to the expert group. Before the site visit the expert group formulates general preliminary statements that are shared with the higher education institution. Based on the report written by the expert group the accreditation commission takes a decision on the accreditation. For more information see AQAS procedures.

2.2 Consequences of quality assurance and accreditation decisions

According to the criteria of the German Accreditation Council there are four possibilities for decision:

  • unconditional accreditation,
  • conditional accreditation,
  • adjournment of the accreditation,
  • denial of the accreditation.

In certain cases, the higher education institution can appeal against decisions. compare 2.5

2.3 Validity of the decision(s)

If a programme accreditation is awarded for the first time, the accreditation is valid for five years. If an accreditation is renewed, it is valid for seven years. In the case of system accreditation, the first accreditation is valid for six years, whereas the system reaccreditation is valid for eight years.

2.4 Publication policy

According to the rules of the German Accreditation Council, AQAS publishes the reports of the review group including the decision of the accreditation commission on its website. For programmes offered by a German higher education institution the final report is also published at Hochschulkompass.

2.5 (Legal) appeal system

Higher education institutions can appeal against a member of an expert group for programme or system accreditation, against the report of the expert group, decisions and conditions of the accreditation commission and in the case of procedural inaccuracy. At first the respective accreditation commission examines the appeal and takes a decision. If no solution can be found, the complaints commission examines the appeal and takes a decision.

2.6 Figures on QA/A procedures

In February 2013, AQAS has accredited more than 3300 study programmes. Moreover AQAS was the first accreditation agency that has accredited the quality assurance system of a University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Accreditation procedures have taken place in 130 higher education institutions.

3. International activities

Besides AQAS’ national activities, AQAS conducts as well international accreditation and evaluation procedures. Procedures have taken place in many countries such as Austria, Luxemburg, Turkey, Spain, Ireland, Italy, France, China, Kazakhstan and Laos. Moreover we organized and participated in several TEMPUS projects. We have accredited several joint and double degree programmes including at least one German and a foreign higher education institution. Currently numerous procedures of these programmes are in progress.

3.1 Member of international quality assurance networks / organisations

AQAS is member in several international quality assurance networks:

3.2 External reviews, compliance with ESG

In line with AQAS’ reaccreditation in 2011/2012 by the German Accreditation Council, the reviewer group examined as well AQAS compliance with the European Standards and Guidelines.