How the University Addresses the QAA Code of Practice, benchmarks and Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
University of Durham - Institutional Approach to Implementing QAA Code of Practice Framework of Higher Education Qualifications
1. The level at which the requirements are addressed
At Durham we have taken the view that the QAA Code of Practice and the Framework of Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) should be addressed at institutional level while the benchmarking statements are better handled at subject level (in most but not all cases, departmental level) in the first instance. The rationale for this is as follows.
- a) The FHEQ deals at a national level with the articulation of standards for each level of qualification. In the first instance it is therefore a means by which institutions can calibrate their standards against those of the rest of the sector; secondly it offers a basis on which institutions can ensure comparability of standards at any given level of award across their own provision and progression between awards at different levels. It is therefore appropriate for the requirements of the FHEQ to be addressed at institutional level.
- b) The Code of Practice covers a range of topics, most of which are the subject of institutional policies and procedures. In many of these areas standards would be jeopardised if departments attempted to implement the Code of Practice in diverse ways. For example, if standards are to be maintained across the university there must be comparability between departments in the way in which assessment is handled (Code of Practice on Assessment of students); external examiners are the guarantors to the university of standards within departments (Code of Practice on External Examining); programme approval and review are the means by which the institution assures itself of the standards of its own provision (Code of Practice on Programme Design, Approval, Monitoring and Review); the treatment of research students, students on placement years, applicants, appellants and students with a complaint and disabled students should be equitable across the university (Code of Practice on Postgraduate Research Programmes, Work-based and Placement Learning, Admissions, Academic Appeals and Student Complaints and Students with Disabilities). Relationships with partners in collaborative agreements are managed at university level (Code of Practice on Collaborative Provision) as is careers guidance (Code of Practice on Careers Education, Information and Guidance). It is therefore appropriate for the Code of Practice to be addressed at institutional level to ensure that university policies are consistent with it; changes are passed down to departments as changes in university policy and procedures.
- c) Benchmarking statements are the product of discussion within each subject community. They can be addressed only at the level of the individual programme(s) of study for which each department (or equivalent) is responsible. The learning outcomes of each programme, modes of learning, teaching and assessment, curriculum design and assessment criteria all contribute to the fulfilment of the benchmark statements. Moreover, discussions about which benchmarks statements are appropriate and about the appropriateness of the various elements of a benchmark statement to any given programme should be held at the subject level since that is where the expertise resides. It is the subject specialists who are best able to use the benchmark statements in this way as an external point of reference in designing their degree programmes. The University has mechanisms to ensure that programmes are consistent with the standards of the benchmark statements: this is done in the case of new programmes
- through the programme approval process and in the case of existing programmes through the periodic review process.
2. The process by which the requirements are addressed
- a) The FHEQ was addressed by a University working group. This group considered the level and qualification descriptors in the FHEQ (both undergraduate and postgraduate ), and also reviewed issues arising from the specification of learning outcomes affecting core regulations such as the use of compensation or condonation and the right to graduate carrying failed modules. The Working Group consulted with departments and faculties over issues such as resits and the detail of the descriptors to ensure that they would be acceptable at subject level as well as providing over-arching standards at university level. Recommendations were approved by Senate. The key outcomes of this exercise were the introduction of:
• a new credit framework;
• revised core regulations;
• Graduate Certificates and Diplomas;
• level descriptors
• qualifications descriptors
• generic assessment criteria corresponding to the Senate marking scale.
- b) Each element of the Code of Practice is being addressed in the first instance by a small group of specialists (or, more rarely, an individual) in the area concerned. The group may already exist or be convened for the purpose (as with the groups which reviewed assessment practices and placement learning). The precepts and guidelines of the code are mapped using a standard matrix arrangement against existing practice to effect a gap analysis; recommendations are then made to enhance current procedures and policies to address the code more effectively. This is then brought to the relevant committee (usually LTC and GSC) for discussion and further refinement of the recommendations.
Following this, recommendations are variously:
- developed further and brought back to the committee:
sent out for consultation
referred to Senate
implemented at procedural level through the administration
Many of the changes result in amendments to the Learning and Teaching Handbook which are then notified by email to all staff as changes in university policy or procedures.
c) Benchmarking statements are addressed within each subject group in the context of curriculum design. Departments have to make reference to them in their programme specifications and the consistency of the programmes with the benchmark statements is considered carefully by periodic review teams. Programme specifications are also required as part of the validation process for the approval of new programmes. Review teams and programme approval panels considering new undergraduate programmes are provided with copies of the relevant benchmarks as part of the context in which to consider each programme. This will be extended to postgraduate programmes in subject areas where Masters-level benchmarks are produced.