JDAZ Quality Assurance

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Quality assurance (QA)

This chapter focuses on the quality assurance issues that need to be taken into account when developing and managing joint programmes. It discusses the European Standards and Guidelines, the Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance tool, and internal and external quality assurance aspects, including the use of alumni.

Key messages for practitioners

  • Start your cooperation by discussing what you (and your university and department) mean by ‘quality’ and how it can be jointly defined and measured within your joint programme.
  • Be(come) fully aware of national accreditation legislation in all the countries where parts of the joint programme are offered.
  • Look for common reference points to monitor quality. One approach is to jointly discuss quality based on the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) – see section 7.2.
  • The use of alumni in monitoring the quality of joint programmes is crucial, since they are the only ones who have followed the entire mobility path with diverse learning environments.
  • If programme-level accreditation is required in the partner countries, a single accreditation is recommended. Please contact the European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA).
  • A tool to consult is ECA’s Joint Programme Checklist, which is inspired by quality assurance and based on good practice in joint programmes.

The European Standards and Guidelines (ESG)

The European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education was established in 2000, and transformed into the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) in 2004. The aim of ENQA is to promote European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education.

The European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) were developed as part of the Bologna Process and adopted by European ministers of higher education in 2005. There are three parts, covering:

  • internal quality assurance;
  • external quality assurance;
  • external quality assurance agencies.

The ESG for internal quality assurance cover the following topics:

  • approval, monitoring and periodic review of programmes and award;
  • assessment of students;
  • quality assurance of teaching staff;
  • learning resources and student support;
  • information systems;
  • public information.

In 2015, the revised European Standards and Guidelines were adopted by the European higher education ministers at the EHEA Ministerial Meeting in Yerevan.

Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance practical tool

A tool worth examining is the EMQA website. It is a 'participatory approach to quality assurance'. EMQA is not a standard quality assurance process of judging or ranking courses against a fixed set of 'standards'. Instead, it assumes that international programmes are constantly innovating and that their results need to be immediately available to the higher education sector. The tool is available for free and can be used for self-assessment by any practitioner involved in the development or implementation of a joint programme.

Four guides are available online, for both master and doctoral level:

  • comprehensive course vision;
  • integrated learning & teaching, and staff development strategy;
  • realistic management, financial, and institutional strategy;
  • recruit excellent students, deliver value, engage alumni.

These are practical guides, with checklists and guidelines.

Internal quality assurance

As for all forms of higher education, for joint programmes it is vital to set principles for internal and external QA measures. It is advisable to base the internal QA measures for a joint programme on the existing internal QA measures. The challenges here lay in matters such as ownership of the procedures, responsibility, and cooperation with partners without breaching security.

One option is to mutually recognise the internal quality assurance schemes of the participating institutions, and include this in the agreement between the institutions. The consortium can develop additional criteria and questions that further investigate typical aspects of a joint programme, such as its organisation or its added value compared to other programmes.

The JOI.CON project indicates that emphasis on quality assurance and accreditation are gaining more and more importance. Joint programmes usually start on the basis of mutual trust, but in order to secure international recognition it is essential to develop a quality assurance policy, including administrative and academic procedures.

JOI.CON describes additional goals for the internal QA process, such as reviewing the curriculum, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the courses, modules and teaching units, monitoring student progress and achievements, increasing the transparency of teaching and study activities, and improving the study and examination processes.

EUA’s guidelines for quality enhancement show quality-related questions that should be addressed by all those responsible for the quality of joint programmes. Teaching is a recurring theme, especially related to the course structure and the learning context. Services are mentioned briefly as a point of interest when implementing mobility.

The EMAP project (Erasmus Mundus Active Participation) offers several recorded videos of presentations on setting up internal quality assurance systems by joint programme coordinators.

External quality assurance

It is advisable to find out beforehand which external quality assurance system is valid for your joint programme, and which aspects this system covers (and doesn't).

The external quality assurance processes for higher education vary from one country to another. The distinction is whether the main focus of quality assurance is on reviewing the entire institutions and their own procedures, on programme-level accreditation, or a combination of both. Information on approaches to external quality assurance within the 47 Bologna countries can be found in the Bologna Process Implementation Report 2012.

In relation to programme-level accreditation, there are also differences between national systems and the procedures of accreditation offices, making accreditation of joint programmes a challenge. Many agencies still have to get accustomed to developing accreditation procedures for joint programmes that cross the national border. To support transparent and flexible accreditation of joint programmes, the European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA) has developed a single accreditation process, as well as a mutual agreement of recognition of accreditation decisions (MULTRA) between several accreditation agencies.

At this moment, it is impossible to have a joint degree accredited by a single accreditation organisation, as no accreditation organisation has the authorisation to do so. This can complicate the accreditation process. ECA is currently investigating the possibility to establish a central coordination point.

Monitoring alumni career paths

To ensure long-term relevance and quality of the learning outcomes achieved through the joint curricula and the mobility structure, the individual joint programmes conduct alumni surveys (some as often as every 6 months). Alumni are invited to Programme Advisory Boards, they participate in university-industry networking and career guidance events, and they act as tutors for younger students.

The Erasmus Mundus Alumni Organisation EMA implements an annual Graduate Impact Survey to monitor career perspectives and the development of skills acquired through the programme, and personal and social development. The survey might serve as guidance for setting up similar surveys in individual joint programmes.

Alumni networks of joint programme schemes

The OCEANS Network is a network for students and alumni of specific bilateral exchange programmes between the European Union on the one side and other industrialised countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA) on the other side. The student exchanges aim at promoting better relations between participants, improving intercultural understanding and knowledge transfer.

The Erasmus Mundus Alumni Organisation EMA includes more than 10 regional networks (called ‘chapters’) in all parts of the world, as well as thematic networks.

Thematic and geographic clustering of joint programmes

Linked to the Erasmus Mundus programmes, the EU has supported the thematic clustering of joint programme stakeholders. These thematic and geographic clusters can be used as a form of external quality assurance. The clusters disseminate the results and experiences of the Erasmus Mundus beneficiaries, coordinators, students, alumni and other relevant stakeholders. The clusters exploit the synergies between the different Erasmus Mundus Joint Programmes and Attractiveness Projects.

The clusters focus on five themes: sustainability, recognition of joint degrees, employability, a regional cluster on Asia, and a thematic cluster on climate change.

The Practical Guidelines of the Cluster on climate change contains a list of possible thematically relevant networking activities to enhance networking between various joint programmes.


Key sources – Quality assurance

Erasmus Mundus Active Participation (EMAP) project presentations on setting up internal quality assurance systems.

Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA), Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance, Handbook of excellence, practical tool. Brussels, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2012.

Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA), Erasmus Mundus Quality Assessment 2012, Handbook of Excellence Doctoral Programmes. Brussels, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2012.

Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA), has four practical guides:

Erasmus Mundus students and alumni Association

European Area of Recognition

European Area of Recognition, EAR Manual

European Association for Quality Assurance (ENQA), Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. ENQA, 2015.

European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA), Joint programme checklist, 2014.

European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA), Multilateral Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Accreditation Results regarding Joint Programmes (MULTRA), 2013.

European Higher Education Area (EHEA) Ministerial Conference 2012, Bucharest Communiqué.

European University Association, Guidelines for Quality Enhancement in European Joint Master Programmes. Brussels, EUA, 2006.

Eurydice. The European Higher Education Area in 2012: The Bologna Process Implementation Report. Eurydice, 2012.

JOI.CON, Practical approaches to the management of joint programmes: results from the JOI.CON Training Project. Leipzig University, 2012.