Irish higher education: the new quality and standards legislation

The Irish government has now introduced the long-awaited legislation on educational quality and standards. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011, which has the purpose of amalgamating a number of public agencies and taking over the functions of the Irish Universities Quality Board, has now been published.

The original impetus for this legislation, signalled by the last Fianna Fáil-led government, was a budgetary one, and was part of the decision to rationalise the public service agency landscape. In this particular instance the idea was that all those agencies dealing with quality and standards in post-secondary education should be brought under one umbrella. This intention was first announced in 2008, so the implementation has not proceeded at what one might call a good pace. However, the Fine Gael/Labour coalition has continued with the plan, though one original intention – to dissolve that National University of Ireland – was dropped. So we are now to have a new agency, to be called the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland (QQAAI, perhaps not the finest acronym one might wish for). As an aside, this continues the practice in Ireland of naming such agencies an ‘Authority’, which suggests a particular, and maybe rather outdated, directive approach to public service.

One concern that might have existed about the proposed legislative framework was that by mixing the quality assurance process of the university sector with quality and standards in other educational bodies, the autonomy of the university system and its particular ethos and mission might be compromised. The Bill may reassure in that respect, at least in so far as there is special provision throughout  for what are described as ‘previously established universities’. These will continue to operate their own quality assurance processes, subject however to obligations of consultation with and information provided to the new Authority (section 28).

So are there still points of concern? Possibly. One would be that the system will be run by an agency which will not primarily be concerned with universities, and which may either not have the resources to focus on them sufficiently, or may find it easier to apply assumptions more appropriate to non-university bodies. The latter risk may be augmented by the uncertainty as to what will happen to the existing staff of the IUQB, which is not technically being merged into the new body. Another concern is that the new Authority, under the proposed statutory provisions, may possibly be under pressure to operate in a rather bureaucratic way.

The proof of this particular pudding will certainly be in the eating. It will be important to ascertain how the QQAAI will work in practice. One promising aspect at least is that its chief executive will be Dr Padraig Walsh, formerly of DCU and most recently the chief executive of the IUQB. His influence on the culture of the new body may ensure that it operates in a way that respects university autonomy and encourages a positive approach to quality assurance and enhancement.

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6 Comments on “Irish higher education: the new quality and standards legislation”

  1. Al Says:

    Forgive the sweeping statement but I feel that quality assurance, standards and control are often the cause of the lack of it….
    Quality, that is…

  2. Vincent Says:

    This thing if it decides that it has directive authority will destroy the third level sector.
    The value, the true value of a University was its dexterity in reaction to new stuff. And where is the bit that recognizes the necessity of good ongoing courses for adults that can be completed in jig time And that are outside and better than those given at extortionate rates by the professions. It’s about bloody time that the professional exams were folded into university and not the idiotic situation we have now of the other way round.
    Bridge. This so called authority encourages gobshites to think about five year plans.

  3. Ernie Ball Says:

    QQAAI is not an acronym. It’s an abbreviation.

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      Or, I guess they call them “initialisms” these days.

    • Actually no, you’re wrong. Or rather, we’re both wrong. QQAAI is neither an acronym nor an abbreviation. NATO is an acronym; etc. is an abbreviation. I don’t really know what QQAAI is, but maybe somebody here does…

      • Michael Kielty Says:

        Actually…… are both right it is an abbreviation (i.e. shortentening of a phrase or collection of words for easy digestion). Also it is an acronym (the use of initials of the nouns to create for easy of use). However, the use of a period seems to be falling into disuse – hence it should read Q.Q. A.A.I.

        Both acronyms and abbreviatiations are a form of initialism which -to be old fashioned – should follow the A.D., B.C, O.K. use of periods.

        Perhaps the Q.Q.A.A.I. is a brand name? Does it have the Ronseal Factor – will it do what it says on the tin?

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