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Quality Assurance and Enhancement Marketplace for Higher Education Institutions
Start date: Sep 1, 2014, End date: Aug 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Improving European education and training system quality has been set as a key target in Europe’s strategy to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020 (Council of the European Union, 2010). These objectives are more specifically defined in the so called Modernisation Agenda (EC 2011). More specifically it sets a goal to improve the quality and relevance of higher education. In this process external evaluation and self-assessment are seen in a key role! Although there are plenty of methods for both self- and cross-evaluation, there is a lack of models for a comprehensive approach, taking account the needs to increase international collaboration and improve international comparability in HEIs. There have been many European projects on QA, but they do not cover still existing problems with accreditation such as required resources, complexity, delays between the evaluation rounds, poor feedback, poor quality loop and distance from continuous education development. There is a need for more flexible evaluation models and processes with peers to reduce the inertia of heavy accreditations/evaluations in HEIs. Contemporary processes are too laborious and increasingly demanding, binary evaluation lacks feedback on how to improve, and moreover, more and more reporting is demanded. QAEMarketPlace4HEI -project proposes a flexible and collaborative method, processes and tools for degree program / higher education evaluation, as a complement for weighty/ponderous accreditations. The innovativeness of the project lies in the collaborative model of quality assurance that can complement accreditations and existing QA systems. The project promotes and strengthens the European cooperation in quality assurance while designing and piloting new kind of continuous, accessible, cooperation based model, tools and a virtual platform (the Market Place) supporting so called cross-sparring between institutions. Cross-sparring is to be understood as a process to make feedback more collaborative, concrete and objective, thanks to critical, but discreet brainstorming sessions, where strategies can be discussed, repeatedly contributing to the quality assurance with a critical external view. As in sport, a sparring partner helps to keep eyes on the objectives, learn from experience and stimulate reflectivity. This approach is beneficial both for the institution evaluated, which will get a more objective view on its strengths and potential improvements, and for the sparring partner which may identify best practices that can be useful for his own institution. The Market Place serves as a tool for finding the best possible sparring partners as well as a forum for networking, sharing experiences, information and best practices. The project consortium consists of eight European higher education institutions: Reykjavik University, Iceland; Turku University of Applied Sciences, Finland ; Aarhus University, Denmark; Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Finland; Umeå University, Sweden; Telecom Bretagne, France; Aston University, United Kingdom and Queens University Belfast, United Kingdom. The project implementation is based on the circular model of quality assurance. The first phase of the project focuses on the self-evaluation and how to ensure the results from different self-evaluation methods provide the right kind of information to enable the best possible pairs for the cross-sparring. Pilot HEIs are supported in this by kick-off workshops. During the second phase, this information is entered to a virtual platform built in this project, the Market Place, where the actual pairing is conducted. Later also the results from the cross-sparrings are entered to the Market Place. Thus the most common development themes can be identified to arrange special theme workshops open for all interested. The Market Place also serves as a database for QA methods, best practices etc. The third phase is about the defining, piloting and refining the cross-sparring method. The continuity of the quality enhancement process after the cross-sparring is supported by collaborative workshops. The project derives from the experiences and actual needs distinguished in the participating institutions to develop the quality assurance process. As a result the degree programs, which are selected for piloting the self-evaluation and cross-sparring processes, are able to exploit the project results directly during the project in their quality assurance and development processes. The beneficiaries of the project are equipped with innovative tools of quality assurance in higher education that can be directly exploited and applied to the every-day life of the HEIs in practical, concrete level.

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