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QAA statement on Subject Benchmark Statements coverage

Date: November 16 - 2022

In light of press stories circulating about the role of Subject Benchmark Statements and associated commentary on decolonising the curriculum, this article sets out what Subject Benchmark Statements are, what QAA’s role in them is, whether they are mandatory and what the latest versions include.

What are Subject Benchmark Statements?

Subject Benchmark Statements define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of what they might know, do and understand at the end of their studies. They also describe the nature and characteristics of awards in a particular subject or area and provide general guidance for understanding the learning outcomes associated with a course.

What is QAA’s role in them?

QAA convenes and facilitates expert advisory groups comprising academics, students, employers and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) to create and update the Statements. There is an advisory group for each Statement, and invitations to form the advisory groups is through an open call for expressions of interest.

We encourage expressions of interest from across the breadth of providers and those active within the relevant disciplines with the aim of ensuring that the groups reflect the academic subject communities. This means the Statements are created by the subject community for the subject community. We conduct open consultations for each draft statement, collating and passing on feedback to the subject advisory groups, who are then responsible for deciding how they wish to respond to that feedback.

The Subject Benchmark Statement activity sits within QAA’s role as the sector’s expert body on quality and standards, funded through membership. It is entirely separate from QAA’s current additional role as the Designated Quality Body in England.

Do they mandate anyone to do anything?

Subject Benchmark Statements do not prescribe or mandate set approaches to teaching, learning or assessment. They capture the ways in which courses in the subject areas are typically delivered at the current time. They are used by providers as a tool for reflection when designing new courses or updating existing courses. It is for each higher education institution - and the academic staff and departments within it - to determine whether and how closely they will follow the Statements.

What is new in this latest iteration of Subject Benchmark Statements?

The latest review of Statements, which began in 2020, is intended to ensure the Statements are current, reflecting the breadth of thinking in each of the discipline areas, for example in relation to subject content and approaches to teaching and learning.

In addition, advisory groups are considering how study in their respective subject areas could help to address wider social goals in four areas: equality, diversity and inclusion; sustainability; the needs of disabled students; and enterprise education. We believe these themes can help in making courses accessible, up to date and engaging for students. They do not replace course content. In current drafts, academics are invited to highlight the history and background of particular theories in their subject discipline, and this is where some drafts have made reference to decolonisation.

Points of clarification

  • QAA is not a 'watchdog'; the assessments we carry out as the Designated Quality Body in England are carried out at the request of the Office for Students (OfS), which is the regulator. Our Subject Benchmark Statements are developed separately in our role as a membership body and are not regulatory.
  • QAA does not 'tell' the sector what to include or exclude from their curriculum. Subject Benchmark Statements collate the thoughts of academic practitioners about what new ideas may wish to be considered within the subject curriculum. They don't advocate for either inclusion or exclusion - they simply present ideas for consideration.
  • QAA does not write Subject Benchmark Statements - it facilitates the process for staff, students and other stakeholders from the relevant subject areas.
  • QAA's work as Designated Quality Body in England is not directly taxpayer-funded.

Read more about our work on Subject Benchmark Statements

Our work on Subject Benchmark Statements
The truth about the QAA Subject Benchmarks - Wonkhe (published 17 Nov 2022)
What does inclusive education look like at a subject level? - Wonkhe