Update regarding assessment activities to be completed by the Designated Quality Body

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the Designated Quality Body (DQB) in England, pursuant to Schedule 4 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA). In England, this means that we perform assessment functions to assess the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education provided by English higher education providers, when commissioned to by the Office for Students (OfS). Our assessment reports and other advice are used by the OfS to inform their regulatory decision making. QAA also operates in the other nations of the UK, and internationally, independently of this designation arrangement which applies to England only.

On 20 July 2022, QAA announced that it would no longer consent to performing the role of DQB after 31 March 2023. Since that announcement, we have received a number of queries from providers and other higher education stakeholders about what this means for the assessment activities we undertake in England. QAA’s work in the rest of the UK, and internationally, is unaffected by this decision.

We have decided to issue this bulletin to update the HE sector in England on the activity we are undertaking as we conclude our time undertaking this role. In the interests of transparency, we will publish further bulletins updating the sector between now and March 2023.

Since making the announcement, we have worked collaboratively with officials from the OfS and the Department for Education (DfE) to plan carefully the assessments we will undertake. We have summarised the arrangements below. We will be utilising all available resource from within the DQB team, and drawing in additional resource from the wider QAA. We will also be making some changes to some assessment methods after requests from the OfS.

Data regarding DQB activity

In June 2022, we made the announcement that we would restart the process of publishing the reports from assessments we have undertaken under the Quality and Standards Reviews (QSR) (excluding QSR:MI) and various Degree Awarding Powers (DAPs) methods, and we have worked with providers to clear the backlog for this. We only publish reports after the OfS has concluded activity with a provider for the process for which a report relates. Publication normally takes place shortly after this, as we engage with providers to arrange redactions of commercially sensitive information if appropriate.

We consider that, in the interests of transparency to the sector, we should publish details related to all reviews that have been undertaken by the DQB under the QSR, Standards Assessment and DAPs methods. We will continue to anonymise information until a provider’s report is published, but our approach will allow providers and sector stakeholders to understand the amount of activity being undertaken by the DQB now, and historically.

Data on assessment activities by the DQB

Activity we will undertake before 31 March 2023 as DQB

Quality and Standards Review

These are reviews we undertake of providers applying for registration with the OfS, where a provider applied for registration before 1 May 2022. The purpose of the review is to provide the OfS with information regarding whether a provider meets the expectations within the Core practices of the UK Quality Code.

All providers who will be undertaking a Quality and Standards Review (QSR) have now been contacted by the OfS, and the majority know the details of the timings of their review.

The OfS has asked that we make some changes to the review process in a manner that the OfS still considers this will provide it with the information it requires to inform its regulatory decisions. As such, some elements of the QSR reports will be produced in a shorter format, particularly where we consider that the provider has demonstrated evidence that it meets the relevant Core practices. Further, the OfS has asked us for some reviews to reduce the number of Core practices we assess. Providers will individually be briefed if this applies to them.

In the past, we also have operated a method, ‘Quality and Standards Review – Monitoring and Intervention’ (QSR:MI), for providers that are already registered with the OfS. We will not be undertaking any more of these reviews in the time that we remain as DQB.

Standards Assessment

These will be assessments we undertake of providers applying for registration with the OfS, where a provider applied for registration on, or after, 1 May 2022. The guidance for this method will be published in the very near future.

The method provides the OfS with information regarding whether a provider’s higher education provision meets the sector-recognised standards published by the OfS. We have not been commissioned to undertake any of these assessments at present, but expect commissions to take place in the future for a limited number of assessments.

Degree Awarding Powers

These are assessments we undertake under a variety of methods for English higher education providers seeking to award degrees, or vary the powers they currently hold. Our assessments are used to formulate advice to the OfS.

Degree Awarding Powers Assessments generally take longer than a Quality and Standards Review. This is because they consider a different range of criteria and normally have a larger number of evidence sources. Therefore, our ability to accommodate further reviews was limited due to the time available between our announcement and the end of March 2023.

New DAPs (NDAPs) assessments
We will complete all NDAPs assessments that were being undertaken at the time of our July announcement, and we have recently been commissioned to undertake one further assessment (the provider concerned has received a briefing session). There will be no change to the method used for the assessments underway. We have agreed with the OfS we may undertake partial NDAPs activity for up to two further providers. Should we be commissioned to do so, then we would discuss the extent of the activity to be undertaken with the OfS and the provider.

New DAPs probationary monitoring
Probationary monitoring for providers with NDAPs results in a quarterly update report. For those providers currently in the monitoring process, we will expect to complete reports up to the last complete quarter that finishes before 31 March 2023. This will be in a revised format from the reports completed to date. We will engage with each of the providers individually to confirm the details.

Variation DAPs assessment
We anticipate completing all variation DAPs assessments that have been commissioned from us. We do not expect to receive any further commissions for assessment under this method. There will be no change to the method used for these assessments

Full DAPs assessments
We will complete, most, but not all, of the Full DAPs assessments that were commissioned prior to our July announcement. For providers where the assessment will not be completed by 31 March 2023, we will arrange a handover with the OfS, and we have agreed with the OfS they will provide us with details of what information they consider they will require in this regard. There will be no other change to the method used for these assessments.

For new assessments, we have agreed with the OfS we will undertake a limited number of Initial Assessments of providers’ Full DAPs applications, and we have begun briefing the providers concerned.

External Quality Assurance of End-Point Assessment Organisations

We launched this method in the summer, and have completed the assessment process with providers who were assessed in that period, and are considering the action plans these providers have produced. We are discussing the arrangements for rolling out further assessment activity this autumn with the OfS, IfATE and the DfE.