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Finding common ground on professional accreditation and regulation
QQI has launched a new report as part of its QQI Insights Series which looks at the accreditation and approval processes of higher education programmes from the perspective of professional and regulatory bodies (PRBs).  

This area is of particular interest to QQI as many higher education programmes must satisfy both the accreditation processes of a professional body and the quality assurance processes of the provider institutions and QQI, as the national quality assurance agency.   The identification of potential synergies between the two processes has prompted QQI to explore smart, aligned approaches with the PRBs and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that would reduce bureaucratic processes to the mutual benefit of all partners and, ultimately, the learners.

The report, Accreditation/Approval of Higher Education Programmes by Professional Bodies, was launched by William Beausang, Head of Higher and Further Education Policy at the Department of Education and Skills, to a packed audience drawn from universities, institutes of technology (IoT), professional and regulatory bodies as well as national agencies and representative groups.  

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The report analysed the difference between the accreditation and approval processes employed by eleven professional and regulatory bodies in Ireland.  The main conclusions were: 

• Many of the PRBs interviewed are currently in a state of flux due to establishing new standards or updating existing standards;
• While all of the bodies are creating similar accreditation or approval processes, and are encountering similar issues, there is little communication between the bodies themselves;
• A shift towards the public interest model to allow for greater consultation when reviewing standards results in more input from the community accessing professional services;
• The increased use of international participants in accreditation panels assists in avoiding any biases;
• The use of commendations in reports is welcomed, but commendations should only be used in cases of genuinely exemplary practice;
• In many cases, PRBs do not have clearly defined appeals processes;
• There is often no definition of material changes to programme content in the PRBs’ standards;
• Refusal to accredit or approve programmes could, in a small number of cases, be indicative of a desire to ensure the survival of certain professions;
• An inability to charge accreditation fees to institutions places a heavy financial burden on PRBs, which can hamper their ability to ensure oversight of programme accreditation/approval and the profession in general, or to recruit international panel members.

Insights were shared from the university and IoT sectors on:

• mapping professional body practice within HEI programmes;
• the interaction of internal quality assurance and external oversight;
• the separation of regulatory and professional functions; and
• sharing of good practice.   

Audience feedback identified a number of key areas of future collaboration between QQI, the PRBs and HEIs, the most popular being:

• Relying on the outputs of each other’s evaluation processes (42%)
• Cross-collaboration on new or revised standards/criteria (24%)

This feedback will be progressed by QQI over the coming months. 

To view the presentations from the event, see below:

Internal Quality Assurance and external oversight in Higher Education - Lewis Purser, Director of Academic Affairs, IUA
Mapping professional body practice and collaborative projects - Maria Kyne, Dean of Faculty of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology, Limerick IT
Quality Assurance and PSRB Accreditation at UCD - Michael Kennedy, Senior Quality Officer, UCD