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20 January 2020

A new decade as a new QAA


Douglas Blackstock
Chief Executive, QAA

Across the world, governments and regulators follow debates about UK higher education. We have an extremely strong global brand, built on a reputation for quality - QAA works with the British Council, UUKi, Department for International Trade and others to promote the quality of our universities and colleges across the world.

This week, at the Education World Forum, we’re hosting and meeting ministers and officials from 15 countries, all eager to find out more about the UK’s HE system, with many seeking our advice on how to develop approaches that align with best practice in quality and standards.

As a new decade begins, I think QAA is better set up to promote, support and collaborate with the sector than we have ever been.

Quality assurance and enhancement

We’ve been recognised in independent reviews as a world leader in quality assurance, and the work we do across the UK is broadening further.

As the statutory designated quality body in England, we are working closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to implement the new regulatory framework. In Scotland, our work as part of the partnership that deliver the Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF) continues to attract attention, and this June we will host over 400 delegates at the International Enhancement Conference.

Wales has moved to a quality enhancement approach and all universities have chosen QAA as the body to conduct reviews. We are actively engaged in the discussions about future regulation in Wales. The return of the Northern Ireland government is something we welcome, and we hope that the advice and support we have continued to offer to the Department for the Economy will be useful as policy develops.


In 2019, we moved successfully to a membership model. Currently, 245 universities, colleges and specialist institutions across the UK have signed up as members, covering almost 90% of all registered students in the UK.

We have an extensive programme of support and resources and our Members benefit from our work on the Quality Code. In the coming year, our priority will be to support the sector’s response to recent challenges related to academic standards, working closely with Universities UK and GuildHE. We are also working with the Association of Colleges and will be developing tailored support for FE colleges. Engaging small providers is challenging and we are preparing bespoke packages designed to provide the support they need.


International work

We also work globally to promote and protect the reputation of UK higher education. We're partners in 16 different countries, mainly countries which are large receivers of UK transnational education (TNE), but also many that send numerous students to the UK. This work is all about strengthening the reputation of UK education abroad, opening up opportunities for UK providers, and delivering our expertise to international institutions. 

What are the key sector issues, and how will we help?

From the many conversations I’ve had over the last year, some common topics emerge: the financial challenges ahead, the climate of external distrust, concerns about academic integrity and essay mills, degree classifications, drop-out rates, micro-credentials, student mental health, grade inflation, a new regulatory environment, and the impact of Brexit. It won’t surprise anyone to know that’s not the full list!

It’s in guiding and collaborating in these areas where I think we can add huge value to the sector. When reviewing higher education providers, we may occasionally have difficult news to share but, as a membership body, we’re also here to help - and we’re delivering guidance, resources, toolkits, publications and much more to safeguard standards and enhance quality in the face of all these challenges. Ultimately, we sit between the government and the sector - an independent expert that serves the interests of everyone with a stake in higher education, and supports the uniqueness of the individual institutions within it.

We’ve also strengthened the organisation with a series of senior appointments, all of whom bring a broad range of experience to QAA, to ensure we can meet the changing needs of the sector. We’ll be engaging soon with institutions about our own strategy beyond 2020.

In the meantime, I’m very confident that we’re in a stronger position than ever to support regulators, funders and institutions across the sector at home and abroad.