The last few months have presented unparalleled challenges for the education and training system in Ireland. No corner of Ireland has been unaffected by this unprecedented disruption to normal activities and commendable efforts have been made across the board to implement a range of modified teaching, learning and assessment alternatives at short notice. As we emerge from lockdown, our efforts move from contingency planning to a strategic approach to a short-term future of maintaining on-campus engagement in a blended learning context for, at the very least, the remainder of 2020 and well into 2021.
As an agency whose activities span the full spectrum of higher and further education and training activities across the country, QQI has an important role to play an active part in supporting and maintaining confidence in the tertiary education and training system throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
For QQI, many of our processes had to evolve immediately and more will have to change in the medium and long-term – how we recreate on-site visits as part of our quality assurance reviews; how moves to blended learning models require new ways of approaching quality assurance and safeguarding the integrity of assessment. QQI has advice and guidance to offer in relation to these and many other challenges being experienced by our stakeholders.
We also thank you for the feedback we received to our stakeholder survey which will help us better understand your needs now and in the future. Your insights will help us plan, develop and deliver our services in a way that is relevant to your needs, support you in quality improvement and align with your planning for the short, mid and longer term. We look forward to sharing the outcomes of our survey with you in the near future.
Work-based Assessment (WBA) Event Series
The Green Paper on Assessment of Learners and Learning published in 2018 continues to foster debate and support collaborative projects between QQI, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and FET and HE providers.
A series of interlinked events are planned to explore what is understood by Work Based Assessment in the Irish context, focus on the shared assessment challenges and opportunities across different contets and discuss some key practice insights and potential action for change in this area.
Webinar 1: Work-based Assessment: Shared Challenges and Opportunities
Wednesday 17th June - listen back here.
Webinar 2: Work-based Assessment: Key Critical Issues - Going Deeper
Wednesday 14th October, 12.00-13.00
National Symposium on Work-based Assessment
Work-Based Assessment Policies and Practice - Actions for Sectoral Change, Thursday 19th November, 10.00-15.00
Read more here.
Finding Common Ground:
QA Processes - reporting and adapting to virtual environments
(for Professional and Regulatory Bodies)
Date: Thursday 9 July 2020
Venue: Microsoft Teams
Webinar: QQI Blended Learning Guidelines
Date TBC: September 2020
Webinar: Academic Integrity Guidance
Date TBC: September 2020
National Academic Integrity Network Plenary Session
Date: Thursday 15 October 2020
National Academic Integrity Network Plenary Session
Date: Thursday 10 December 2020
Visit our events page for more information and event updates.
Supporting the Sector
QQI has been engaged across a range of Department of Education and Skills groups to support the continuity of tertiary education and learning throughout the COVID-19 crisis including a high-level Steering Group overseeing and enabling the work of a wide range of working and co-ordination groups tasked with identifying issues and challenges and presenting solutions to stakeholders.
QQI, CEO, Padraig Walsh chairs the Quality, Integrity and Reputation group which aims to ensure the maintenance of the quality of teaching and learning, assessment and qualifications by documenting best practice and developing guidelines for the sector. This emphasis on reputation is underscored by a joint project, supported by all providers and national bodies, which will evaluate the impact of COVID-19 modifications to teaching, learning and assessment. By analysing existing and planned evaluations by providers, the project will evaluate what has worked well and what has not.
With equity of access to the fore, a Mitigating Educational Disadvantage group is examining factors which impact on disadvantaged learners, ensuring these inform planning for the sector and proposing responses to mitigate these impacts.
Resumption of Ireland's significant international education sector is the focus of the International Education working group. This group seeks to ensure Ireland's international competitiveness in this space and to take the actions necessary to support EU and other mobility programmes such as Erasmus+.
On a related theme, the English Language Education working group is focussed on the issues faced by international students who are enrolled in programmes or who had planned to travel here this year. The current pause in international education activities is examined for specific impact on the English Language Education sector.
Specific action is also being taken in relation to the area of Apprenticeship through a dedicated working group which is engaging with employers to evaluate how labour market changes, now and into the future, affect apprenticeships. Continuity of learning, redundancies and planning for a lifting of restrictions have been pillars of this group's work.
The Finance working group identifies, tracks and monitors the financial impacts of COVID-19 for the sector.
QQI has also contributed to the Immediate Operations Co-ordination and Medium Term Contingency Planning groups which have focussed on immediate challenges such as the completion of teaching and assessment for the last academic year, and developing plans and solutions for transitioning from lockdown into a new academic phase respectively.
Academic Integrity in Challenging Times
The adoption of new online methodologies (hybrid or remote digital teaching, learning and assessment) for the academic year 2020-21 raises questions about their vulnerability to academic misconduct or cheating.
The work of the National Academic Integrity Network continues in raising awareness of the core importance of academic integrity and developing a common approach to this key aspect of quality assurance.
Through its working groups, the Network is developing practical support for higher education institutions, their staff and students. This will include a common Academic Integrity lexicon which will help institutions better understand and define instances of academic cheating; guidance on how to safeguard academic integrity; and dedicated communications to raise awareness of the risks of academic cheating, and the available mitigating supports, amongst students.
We have also compiled a list of Academic Integrity resources that will be of use to providers in developing new modes of remote and online learning, teaching and assessment.
Keeping Quality Reviews on Track
In line with European Standards and Guidelines, through its CINNTE cycle of external quality reviews QQI evaluates and reports on how effectively our publicly-regulated higher education institutions are maintaining and enhancing quality in education and related services. The reviews explore how institutions have improved their teaching, learning and research systems, and how well institutions have aligned with their own mission, quality indicators and benchmarks.
Lockdown and social distancing have required us to review and adapt our processes and we're pleased to announce that QQI's first 'virtual' institutional review has commenced with IT Carlow. An independent panel of experts will engage with staff, learners and stakeholders of the institute to discuss its approach to quality assurance and enhancement. A case study on the pilot process is available in this European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) publication, while details of the review team and process are available here.
Our New Register of Qualifications Goes Live
The Irish Register of Qualifications (IRQ) goes live this month!
The IRQ is a comprehensive and authoritative list of all quality-assured programmes and courses which lead to awards and qualifications recognised in the National Framework of Qualifications.
The 2019 Act strengthens the basis on which all qualifications are to be included in the NFQ. The Act also provides for an increase in the range of awarding bodies eligible to have qualifications included in the NFQ. The IRQ will provide public confirmation of the legal relationship between a qualification and the NFQ; it will also provide details about the associated programme, provider and awarding body.
The Register will also perform other important functions. It will:
Allow domestic and international authorities to confirm which awards are on the NFQ, which programmes lead to these awards and the associated awarding body;
Confirm those institutions and programmes eligible for the International Education Mark (when established); and
Provide an opportunity for government departments and state bodies to reduce the administrative burden on institutions, replacing state-maintained lists such as the Interim List of Eligible Programmes for international student immigration permissions, and the list of programmes eligible for tax exemptions.
The Register currently contains entries for universities, technological universities and institutes of technology as well as higher and further education providers offering programmes leading to a QQI award.
At a later date, the IRQ will also include qualifications from other awarding bodies when they are eligible to have qualifications included within the NFQ, for example, professional bodies, and UK and other international awarding bodies.
Visit the IRQ here.
New Provider Portal
QQI has developed a new online platform for stakeholders to allow us to engage more efficiently and effectively with providers. QHub currently supports business processes such as programme validation, revalidation and extension. In the future, the portal will also support re-engagement, quality reviews, certification and the administration of QQI's new regulatory functions such as the International Education Mark, protection for enrolled learners and corporate fitness. You can explore QHub here.
Following the June PAEC meeting, we are pleased to announce that four more providers have successfully had their QA procedures approved though reengagement. Congratulations to Galway Business School, The International College for Personal and Professional Development, the Security Institute of Ireland and Portobello Institute!
The National Apprenticeship in Recruitment Practice was also approved for validation as the first dedicated qualification for the recruitment industry in Ireland. This programme, an Honours degree level 8 on the NQF, is aimed at Leaving Certificate students and new and existing employees currently working in the recruitment industry with an approved SOLAS employer. It is a full-time programme delivered over three years. Learning will take place within the workplace and the learner will also attend the National College of Ireland one day a week over the academic year. This is the first specific qualifications for the recruitment industry in Ireland.
Programme Review and Validation
The current pressures on the system arising from the pandemic has made the usual QQI programme review and revalidation processes more challenging for providers. In recognition of these difficulties, it has been decided to grant a four-month extension of enrolment (until 31 December 2020) to forty-one programmes provided by seven higher education and apprenticeship providers. This extension is provided free of charge and should help alleviate pressure on providers.
European Referencing of the NFQ
Many thanks to all our stakeholders supporting the referencing of the NFQ to both the European Qualifications Framework and the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Framework). This project will promote the attractiveness and international recognition of qualifications offered and achieved in Ireland. Work is continuing with the assistance of many inputs from a broad range of stakeholders across the education and skills system. We anticipate that a national report will be presented to the relevant EU and Council of Europe authorities in Q4. Issues highlighted by the referencing project will be taken up by a new stakeholder advisory group under consideration. The Green Paper on the Qualifications System will be a good platform for open discussion on our qualifications system when it is formally launched for consultation in the Autumn.
CAO and FET Learners
Approximately 12,500 learners have indicated that they wish to use their FET or QQI award for access to higher education through the CAO process or at colleges abroad. To relieve the pressure on providers and FET learners, we have added an extra QQI Award certification period on 8 July to ensure that any delays in completing assessment and appeals will not disadvantage any learners.
This additional certification period will also be important for learners who:
- Closing date for submissions – 8 July
- Final date for submission of appeals – 28 July
- Certificates issued - 3 September
The New Europass
The new Europass online platform is due to go live on Wednesday 1 July 2020. It will provide a secure, accessible and user-friendly platform and set of web-based tools and information to support individuals in managing their career and learning. Europass will be particularly important in helping individuals find employment and training opportunities as they deal with the new labour market challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The new Europass includes:
the Europass e-Portfolio: an online tool for users to describe their skills, find interesting job and learning opportunities, to manage their applications, and create CVs and cover letters.
Information on working and studying in different EU countries.
Digitally signed credentials: free tools and software for institutions to issue digital, tamper-proof qualifications and other learning credentials.
Interoperability: Europass can connect with employment and learning services to allow users connect and make applications.
QQI is the national reference point in Ireland for Europass and can provider more information. Find out more about the service here.