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Official UK Postgraduate Rankings: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

The Quality Assurance Agency or QAA is an independent educational body that was established in 1997. Its purpose is to safeguard the standards and improve the quality of higher education in the UK. The QAA do this by offering advice, guidance and support to all the UK universities in order to provide the best possible student experience of higher education.

What makes the QAA a good source of ranking data?

The QAA is an excellent source of postgraduate ranking data as it conducts reviews on all the UK universities and then publishes the findings on their website in what they call an institutional audit. These audits provide all the good practices that they identified at a university and also include the recommendations that they suggested. The audits are a brilliant way to see how good the quality of education will be at any given university.

How are the QAA audits conducted?

Institutional audits are carried out by teams of academics, who review the quality and standards of each institution's academic activities, with an emphasis on the students and their studies. The auditors use their background knowledge of higher education and expertise to see how well an institution is doing its work, and also check this against the nationally agreed Academic Infrastructure reference points.

UK Official Postgraduate Rankings: Quality Assurance Agency

The auditor's objective is to assess the methods an institution uses to maintain standards in its programs and awards. There are several different types of information it can use. As a first step, they will look at a briefing paper supplied by the institution, in which it gives a mixture of facts, figures and analysis about itself.

Next, the team will visit the institution over a period of several days and meet the head of the institution, senior members of staff and student representatives to discuss matters related to the audit at either an institutional or discipline level. Other sources of information, ie about an institution’s awards and policies or minutes of relevant meetings, are also considered. How the institution uses the Academic Infrastructure is also looked into.

Finally, the team will also use trails to examine how well an institution’s internal quality assurance processes work. These may concentrate on particular programmes or groups of programmes, or on a particular theme running through the institution's standards and quality management.

Students are involved in the process either through representatives (ie course reps or students' union officers) submitting a student-written submission or groups of students meeting the audit team. In addition, it was recently decided that audit teams will in future have student members.

Each team’s findings are then published as a report on the QAA website. This will be made up of a summary, the audit’s findings and the main report. There are no numerical scores, rather the audit team’s judgments as to the level of confidence (expressed as ‘confidence’, ‘limited confidence’ or ‘no confidence’) to be placed on the institution’s management of the quality of its programmes available to students and the standards of its awards.

Comments are also made on what the institution is doing for the quality and standards of its postgraduate research programmes, how it goes about improving the quality of its educational provision, and the accuracy and completeness of the information it publishes.

Finally, the audit report will recommend action to be taken by the institution that it deems to be 'essential', 'advisable' or 'desirable'. Institutional audits are an ongoing process and institutions are subject to them regularly.

Advantages of the QAA

•    The QAA is a credible source being well established and highly recommended.
•    The audits are carried out by professionals so can be relied upon.
•    Audits are available on all higher educational establishments.

Disadvantages of the QAA

•    The audits can use rather technical language making them difficult to understand.
•    The information provided is more about the quality of education so will not give you a good idea about how life at the university is.
•    Comparisons of institutional audits aren’t made easy as each audit is on a separate page.

Click here to view the QAA website.

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