Skip to main content Accessibility Statement

QAA publishes definition of quality for policymakers

Date: September 11 - 2023

QAA has published a definition of quality designed to help policymakers and other lay stakeholders understand what is meant by ‘quality’ in UK higher education.

Drawing upon QAA’s 26 years of experience at the forefront of assuring quality and standards,  the definition is a synthesis of QAA’s existing material such as the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

The document offers this definition:

‘Quality in higher education refers to how well providers support students consistently to achieve positive outcomes in learning, personal development and career advancement, while meeting the reasonable expectations of those students, employers, government and society in general.’

To increase its usefulness for policymakers, it provides a detailed breakdown of indicators that reflect high quality, with examples of how they are borne out in educational settings.

This non-exhaustive list of indicators includes:

  • Staff and students are professionally and academically thriving
  • The learning experience is relevant and challenging
  • Everyone within a provider seeks to improve quality
  • All students get a fair chance
  • External expertise is sought and used
  • Assessment is a tool to support and evidence learning

Due to the diverse range of providers across the UK, the way these indicators are implemented and their weighting may vary among providers.

Though value for money is an important factor in perceptions of quality, this definition focuses on the quality of provision outside of those perceptions.

The definition is accompanied by two infographics, available below, co-created by UUK, QAA and Guild HE, which aim to support external stakeholders in understanding the UK’s quality assurance landscape. The first outlines internal university processes that institutions undertake to assure their own quality including institution-wide oversight, ongoing programme evaluation and development of new programmes. The second outlines the national approaches to quality assurance taken across each of the UK’s four nations.

QAA’s CEO, Vicki Stott, said: 'Academic quality is central to the higher education experience and the UK sector’s world-leading reputation but when it’s talked about without a common understanding of what we mean by it, it can be a term that’s open to interpretation and can lead to misguided policy. We are pleased to offer this definition to policymakers and others who care about UK higher education so that they can better understand the nuance of what the sector means when it talks about ‘quality’. We hope it informs discussions about higher education, serving the best interests of students, the sector and those invested in high-quality provision.'

Vivienne Stern, Chief Executive at Universities UK said: 'The higher education sector takes seriously its role in ensuring that all students receive a high quality education. This definition provides a helpful reference point, to start communicating what we mean when we talk about high quality education. We believe it offers a good foundation for constructive discussions with policymakers, the public, and students, with a shared understanding about how universities are providing students with high quality experiences that will equip them with the skills and knowledge they need now and in the future.'

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive at GuildHE said: 'QAA’s definition of quality for policymakers is a helpful distillation of what the higher education sector means when it talks about quality. It has relevance across all provider types across the UK’s diverse higher education sector. By increasing the understanding of what we mean by quality, we can have constructive conversations about quality policy that delivers against the needs of students, providers, and Government.'