Quality Arrangements

Review of the Quality Arrangements in Colleges and Universities

The government, on behalf of the public, has an interest in making sure that the education that happens at colleges and universities is as good as possible. To do this, there are two agencies that exist to oversee quality processes – Education Scotland in colleges, and the Quality Assurance Agency in universities. Each of these agencies oversee particular principles, guidelines and processes, and these are often referred to as the ‘Quality Arrangements’.

Both the college and university sector quality arrangements are currently being reviewed as part of the SFC Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability, which includes moving towards a tertiary approach to quality, which is currently being developed.  More information on this can be found on our SFC Review webpage, which contains a number of briefing notes for both staff and student officers.  

In September 2022, SFC published guidance to colleges and universities on quality for AY 2022-23 and AY 2023-24, setting out the quality arrangements for these periods.  sparqs has produced briefings summarising the current quality arrangements for both colleges and universities for 2022-2024, which remain separate for the next two academic years as the sector moves towards the tertiary approach. For academic year 2023-24, there is some additional guidance for colleges, which is summarised in a new briefing.


Previous quality arrangements

Below is some background information on the previous arrangements in both colleges and universities, in place since 2016.

In colleges

In December 2016, the new quality arrangements for colleges were published by the Scottish Funding Council.  Arrangements for assuring and improving the quality of provision and services in Scotland’s colleges set out guidance for colleges around developing their annual Evaluative Report and Enhancement Plan. These evaluated colleges’ progress against Education Scotland's quality framework at that time, How good is our college? (HGIOC) and against colleges’ regional outcome agreements.

However, in Spring 2020, due to the ongoing situation around COVID-19, Education Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council decided to pause HGIOC and associated outputs, including Evaluative Reports and Enhancement Plans (EREPs) and Progress Visits. Instead, Education Scotland published a new set of resources ‘Our Best Future’ which supported colleges during the ‘recovery year’ (2020-21). Education Scotland stated HM Link Inspectors would work flexibly and responsively to emerging support needs of colleges as they recovered from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, through regular ongoing engagement and use of the Our Best Future materials. HM Inspectors worked alongside the sector to assist colleges to plan and manage adjustments and support improvement.

The resources covered four key themes:

  • Curriculum, learning and teaching, and assessment.
  • Transitions.
  • Services to support learning.
  • Evaluation to facilitate improvement.

To further support colleges to engage in these resources, and to ensure they considered student engagement in the planning and delivery of the themes, sparqs and Education Scotland co-created A Toolkit for Effective Learner Engagement, published in November 2020.

The toolkit was aligned to and intended to be used alongside the ‘Our Best Future’ materials and sparqs’ Student Learning Experience tool to effectively support colleges and staff to engage their students to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the Student Learning Experience.

Each section explored the importance of learner engagement, as well as the expectations set out within the ‘Our Best Future’ resources. It contained a list of questions for colleges to consider, to assist them in focusing on engaging with their learners. The self-reflection questions also supported colleges in exploring the different ways they could ensure students were engaged and able to shape and influence changes to the planning and delivery of services, including the vital role the students’ association and course reps played. Additionally, a selection of key questions from the sparqs’ Student Learning Experience tool were included for colleges to utilise when asking learners how the pandemic had impacted on their learning experience.

The toolkit was intended to help colleges to not only think about short-term engagement from learners in responding to COVID-19, but also how learners could be engaged in longer-term evaluation and enhancement and planning for the future.

sparqs continued to work closely with Education Scotland to support colleges in ensuring active participation by learners in self-evaluative activities and in planning for future delivery. In November 2020 we jointly facilitated a ‘Virtual Bridge’ event, hosted by College Development Network in partnership with Jisc, to formally launch the Toolkit for Effective Learner Engagement and start conversations with the sector as to what future learner engagement might look like and what are some of the biggest challenges that sparqs could help colleges address.  A recording of that session is available on CDN’s YouTube channel.

Although HGIOC is currently paused, the principles of HGIOC and of learner engagement, remain central to current arrangements and the original mapping of the How good is our college? indicators to A Student Engagement Framework for Scotland. Each key principle was underpinned by a high-level challenge question and related quality indicators.  sparqs created a short mapping document which pulled out the supplementary challenge questions under each quality indicator which related to Student Engagement and mapped those questions against the five elements of the Student Engagement Framework.


In universities

The quality arrangements in universities, which are also often called the Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF), are outlined on the QAA Scotland website and consist of five pillars:

  • Enhancement-led Institutional Review
  • Institution-led Review
  • Enhancement Themes
  • Student Engagement
  • Public Information

The Quality Arrangements for Scottish Higher Education (QASHE) committee, which oversees the quality arrangements for universities, has undertaken a review of the QEF in line with the wider Scottish Funding Council Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability.  The last review of the QEF took place between 2014-2016 and included a formal consultation with the sector to gather a wide range of views about the quality arrangements.  You can read both the sparqs response and the NUS Scotland response to that consultation. The responses conveyed strong support for the QEF and the ethos of enhancement which, it is felt, has been of great benefit to the sector. sparqs was also delighted by the strong commitment shown across the sector to the role of student engagement with submissions showing support for the contributions students have made over the years and an appetite to further develop work in this area.

To support student engagement in the review, sparqs developed several briefing notes for both student officers and staff, which offered summaries of the review process at various stages, as well as information on how to engage students in the review. See our SFC Review webpage for further information. .

As a result of the consultation and review, there were a number of changes to the arrangements, including:

  • The ELIR (Enhancement-led Institutional Review) cycle was extended to 5 years. In practice this meant that external reviews took take place over 4 years (as before), with an additional year for developmental activities. ELIR 4 ran between 2017-2022. You can read more about the developments made to cycle 4 of ELIR in QAA Scotland’s ELIR Handbook.
  • A national Working Group on Student Engagement was set-up and met during 2016-2017. The remit of the group was to make recommendations to develop student engagement in each element of the QEF. The group was co-chaired by Rob Henthorn, former VP Education at NUS Scotland and included representation from student officers, students’ association staff and sparqs. The final report and recommendations is available here.

More information about the previous quality arrangements for universities from 2017-22 is detailed in the Scottish Funding Council guidance to higher education institutions on quality (August 2017).

For more information on any of the above you can contact Megan Brown.

Student Engagement Framework

That's Quality! Colleges

15 Jul 2024

This event is a three-part package, as detailed below. ~ Part 1:  half-day college online event - Monday…


That's Quality! Universities

15 Jul 2024

This event is a three-part package, as detailed below. ~ Part 1:  half-day university online event - Monday…