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17 June 2019

Only connect: The value of international engagement for UK HE


Fabrizio Trifiro
International Manager, QAA

EM Forster’s phrase ‘only connect’ is much quoted in relation to the importance of personal relationships, but it applies equally to our professional connections as well.

At the end of March, two important international quality events took place in Sri Lanka, hosted by the University Grants Commission - the annual conferences of INQAAHE and the Asia Pacific Quality Network (APQN). 

QAA was invited to talk about our leading-edge work with one of our formal international partners, the Hong Kong Council for the Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) on the quality assurance of UK transnational education (TNE) in Hong Kong. In particular, we discussed the importance of our agencies working together to avoid unnecessary regulatory overlaps and reducing burden for UK providers.

Last year, we worked with HKCAAVQ on our 2018 review of UK TNE in Hong Kong and took inter-agency cooperation to a new level by carrying out joint review activity for the first time.  This allowed us to significantly lessen the burden on the UK providers involved, which only had to submit one information set and host a single review visit. It also allowed our reviewers to benchmark QAA and HKCAAVQ processes and standards through their simultaneous application. On this basis, we were able to determine that we can place reliance in the future on HKCAAVQ’s accreditation decisions.

We’re one of the agencies setting the international agenda in this area of work, playing a key role in developing the Toolkit for Quality Assurance Agencies: Cooperation in Cross-Border Higher Education. We’re also founding members of two networks for inter-agency co-operation: Quality Beyond Boundaries Group and the Cross-Border Quality Assurance Network.

With delegates from around the world, the INQAAHE and APQN conferences were great platforms to explore how the QAA-HKCAAVQ model could be replicated in other countries.  They also provided important opportunities to improve international stakeholders’ understanding of, and confidence in, the many recent changes in UK HE and our quality and regulatory landscape - particularly in England.

The conferences also provided valuable intelligence on strategic countries for UK higher education. We share this intelligence with UK providers through our regular country reports. International Insights (for our members), webinars and other activities.

According to HESA data for 2017-18, Sri Lanka has moved into sixth place of the top 10 countries for UK TNE, overtaking Hong Kong. During the conferences, the Sri Lankan government passed legislation to establish a new national quality assurance agency - the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Commission for Higher Education. Following the words of EM Forster, we’ll be connecting with this new body from the outset, building our relationship in an increasingly strategic location for UK higher education.