In 1999 the Bologna Declaration mentioned “European co-operation in quality assurance with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies” as one of the six objectives for achieving the European Higher Education Area in the next decade.
The second Ministerial Communiqué (Prague, 2001) emphasised “the necessity of close European cooperation and mutual trust in and acceptance of national quality assurance systems; “to design scenarios for mutual acceptance of evaluation and accreditation/certification mechanisms”; and it made a call “to collaborate in establishing a common framework of reference and to disseminate best practice”.
The third Ministerial Communiqué (Berlin, 2003) established the principle that the primary responsibility for QA rests with each institution. It introduced an ambitious agenda by specifying four elements which national QA systems should include by 2005. It also called on ENQA and the European associations of institutions (EUA, EURASHE) and students (ESIB, now called ESU) “to develop an agreed set of standards, procedures and guidelines on quality assurance, to explore ways of ensuring an adequate peer review system for quality assurance and/or accreditation agencies or bodies”.
In Bergen (2005) the Ministers took up the first part by adopting the developed Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). These ESG were influenced by the codes of good practices that were adopted previously by ECA in 2004 and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) in 2003.
In Bergen the ENQA proposal for peer reviews of QA agencies on the basis of the ESG was also endorsed . ENQA in cooperation with EUA, EURASHE and ESIB was asked to develop a European register of quality assurance agencies based on national review.
In London (2007) the Ministers adopted the E4 proposal for a European register and specified that it should be “voluntary, self-financing, independent and transparent”. The development of this register had also been supported in the 2006 Recommendation of the European Parliament and Council. In March 2008 the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) was founded by the E4.
In the Ministerial Communiqué of Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve (2009) the Ministers asked the E4 to ensure that “the European Quality Assurance Register is evaluated externally, taking into account the views of the stakeholders”. This external evaluation took place in 2011. The review panel recommended a reflection on EQAR’s strategic role, including the relationship with ENQA. Both organisations require that QA agencies substantially comply to the ESG in order to become or stay full member (ENQA) or be included in EQAR. However, the criteria and interpretation used are not completely identical and the decisions are made by different bodies (the ENQA Board and Register Committee). In addition, not all ENQA full members apply for EQAR. As of April 2012 there are 44 ENQA full members and 28 agencies listed on EQAR.
The development of qualifications frameworks is another outcome of the Bologna process which, although not in the QA action line, has influenced QA significantly. The adoption by the Ministers in 2005 of an overarching Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) which specifies three cycles (Bachelor and short cycle programmes, Master, Doctorate) with generic descriptors for these cycles and corresponding amounts of ECTS is an important landmark. It has made it possible for each country to develop a national qualifications framework which is in line with the EHEA framework and therefore comparable to the frameworks of other countries .
In recent years the Communiqués underline the importance of developing learning outcomes. Both qualifications frameworks and learning outcomes are now part of most EQA systems, i.e. it is assessed or evaluated whether institutions develop programmes that are in line with the European requirements for qualifications frameworks and learning outcomes.