15 September 2021
Putting the Emphasis on Enhancement: The Welsh Approach to Quality
This blog is also available in Welsh
Executive Director of Operations and Deputy Chief Executive, QAA
This week, members of the higher education sector in Wales came together for a Sharing Practice event, hosted by QAA as part of our commitment to the pan-Wales collaborative Higher Education Investment and Recovery (HEIR) Fund project led by Wrexham Glyndwr University on behalf of the Universities Wales Learning and Teaching Network (LTN).
This enhancement event is part of a suite of enhancement activities that the Welsh higher education sector is engaging in to work collaboratively in improving the quality of the student experience. QAA’s Executive Director of Operations and Deputy Chief Executive, Alastair Delaney tells us more.
As anybody working in higher education can attest to, achieving a goal or ambition as an individual provider is no easy feat. Achieving a shared goal or ambition as a sector presents even greater challenges. However, it also presents even greater opportunity for transformation. And this is exactly the vision that the higher education sector in Wales has shared with us, a collective aspiration to become more enhancement-focused in their approaches to quality. The view of the sector was that a focus on enhancement offered even greater potential to ensure the best possible experience for all students in Welsh higher education.
QAA Cymru welcomed the opportunity with open arms and so began a journey towards enhancement, with a variety of opportunities, that has transcended the past 18 months and a global pandemic. An enhancement approach encourages the Welsh sector to individually and collectively identify areas for improving the student experience, even when threshold quality and standards are assured. This approach develops a culture where the sector strives to exceed threshold standards and demonstrate excellence. Such a culture has been at the heart of the Scottish higher education system for almost 20 years through its’ Quality Enhancement Framework which QAA Scotland facilitates in collaboration with the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the higher education sector in Scotland.
In achieving the sector’s ambitions, it was vital that QAA Cymru adopted and fostered an approach based on the principles of collaboration and partnership. After having been presented with a written proposal by QAA, Universities Wales 'Learning & Teaching Network approved and committed to the exploration of a collaborative approach to enhancement across Wales, facilitated by QAA Cymru. Liaison meetings with individual providers in Autumn 2020 helped us to identify shared priorities and potential emerging themes for enhancement-led opportunities. A further meeting of the Wales Quality Network in November 2020 introduced the idea of collaborative working through theme-based projects, led by the sector with support from QAA Cymru, a model already successfully implemented in Scotland through QAA Scotland’s collaborative clusters.
Following agreement amongst the Welsh sector that this thematic approach to enhancement would be a suitable way forward, QAA Cymru facilitated an enhancement planning session for Welsh members in December 2020 and committed funding to this programme, entitled Collaborative Enhancement Projects. Further engagement with the sector took place from January to March of this year, which helped us to further refine potential themes for our collaborative projects. Following this period of collaboration, a further enhancement planning session was held in March 2021, providing an opportunity to share ideas from the institutional engagement period, providing an additional forum for discussion on themes and topics and facilitating the opportunity to collaborate across providers that is key to an enhancement approach. This also culminated in the launch of expressions of interest for Collaborative Enhancement Projects.
Following the closure of expressions of interest, we now have five Collaborative Enhancement Projects in Wales, which kicked off in the 2020-21 academic year and will continue into the 2021-22 academic year. They are:
- Innovative assessment - Lead: Aberystwyth University (Cardiff University, UWTSD, Swansea University, Bangor University)
- Student engagement in learning - Lead: Bangor University (Grŵp Llandrillo Menai)
- Welsh medium employer initiative - Lead: University of South Wales (Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, Cardiff and Vale College, Coleg Gwent, Coleg Y Cymoedd, The College Merthyr Tydfil)
- Embedding COVID-19 lessons learnt to enhance communities of learning - Lead: University of South Wales (Cardiff and Vale College, Coleg Gwent, NPTC)
- Development of resources for PGR students to assist preparation for their viva - Lead: University of South Wales (University Alliance, University of Huddersfield, Coventry University). This project is funded through the Welsh collaborative enhancement funding but came through a call from UK-wide membership.
Higher education institutions in Wales are also engaging in enhancement work beyond the Collaborative Enhancement Projects through funding allocated by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) from the Welsh government’s Higher Education Investment and Recovery (HEIR) Fund. Specific activities within this programme of funding include a QAA-led thematic review of digital learning and the QAA-led Sharing Practice event which takes place this week. The overall pan-Wales project led by Wrexham Glyndŵr University on behalf of the Universities Wales LTN aims to secure the sustainability of digital curriculum development capacity across the sector, gather and evaluate student perceptions of the effectiveness of digital learning, and celebrate best practice and establish a sector-wide digital learning enhancement plan.
A further call for submissions for additional Collaborative Enhancement Projects in 2021-22 will be issued later this year, and QAA aspires to support the Learning & Teaching Network with a further thematic review following completion of the first review, subject to available funding. As all of these projects develop through collaborative partnership over the course of the next year, the sector aspires to demonstrate the value and importance of an enhancement-led approach to quality in higher education for the benefit of students studying in Wales.
This is the first in a series of enhancement-focused blogs which QAA will host over the next year. Over the coming months, representatives from the Welsh higher education sector will share insights and observations from their involvement in the Collaborative Enhancement Projects and other enhancement focused activities.
If you are interested in receiving updates about QAA’s work in Wales, you can sign up to the quarterly QAA Cymru newsletter.