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Academic Quality Support Services (AQSS) exists to oversee the processes through which the University sets and maintains its academic standards and assures the quality of its provision. As quality assurance across the sector transitions from an emphasis on process to an environment in which measurable outcomes are regarded as true markers of quality, AQSS must respond by grasping the opportunities that a lighter-touch regulatory framework brings, whilst not risking the University’s hard earned reputation for the quality of the provision it offers.

Academic quality and the maintenance of academic standards are embedded in the daily work of Faculties and Departments and this is not always readily amenable to codification. AQSS must now position itself to support the identification and contextualisation of this activity through the data and metrics that the University’s external regulators will use to measure our performance. Therefore, as well as upholding standards, enabling enhancements and innovations in teaching and learning must be at the heart of everything we do.

In the next five years, AQSS will adhere to the following five priorities to support this aim:

1. Creating efficient and effective processes that safeguard academic standards and which promote continuous enhancement of student outcomes

The University’s quality assurance processes are not a proxy for real quality which is deeply embedded in the teaching and learning that takes place within Faculties and Departments. It is vital that bureaucratic processes do not detract from this activity. Consequently, reflecting the changing landscape of quality assurance in English higher education, we will simplify our approach by:

  • Designing processes which minimise the time that academic members of staff need to spend engaging with them, whilst maximising the value of their input.
  • Taking a proportionate approach to regulation by limiting the time and resources spent on those elements of the University’s provision which are considered low risk; allowing it to respond quickly to the demands of an evolving and dynamic market whilst not compromising quality and standards.
  • Ensuring that processes are mapped against the regulatory requirements of the Office for Students and QAA. We will also articulate how they are intended to contribute to the enhancement of student outcomes.
  • Operating in a transparently cost-effective way so as not to divert the University’s resources away from the core business of teaching, learning and research.

2. Providing support for the maintenance of the University’s academic standards in a consistent way across all areas of provision

To ensure that our graduates remain competitive in the jobs market, the high quality of our awards must be preserved by robustly and consistently applying the University’s academic standards across all of its provision. To support this endeavour, AQSS will:

  • Ensure that the University’s procedures are competent to confirm alignment with sector requirements for the content and assessment of academic programmes through adherence to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications and QAA Subject Benchmark Statements (where applicable).
  • Collaborate with the Students’ Union and others to promote academic integrity as a partnership between students and the University, thereby ensuring that all students have an equal and fair opportunity to succeed.
  • Where appropriate, provide for input from external stakeholders (academics, employers, subject benchmarks etc.) to verify that the University’s academic standards are comparable to the rest of the sector.

3. Embedding an ethos of ‘quality assurance for quality enhancement’ by working closely in partnership with others to ensure that processes are appropriate to the context of the University

AQSS has overall responsibility for ensuring that the University is able to meet its external regulatory obligations in relation to quality and standards. However, we understand that Faculties and Departments, in discharging their responsibilities to Senate, are the gatekeepers of quality and the only bodies through which improvement of student outcomes can be secured. To enable this, we will:

  • Empower each Faculty to take further responsibility for approving and modifying the provision that it offers in ways that are proportionate and consistent across the University.
  • Place greater emphasis on supporting enhancement through the contribution of quality expertise at appropriate points in the approvals and review processes.
  • Actively seek and act upon feedback and evaluation of the University’s quality assurance processes; thereby engaging in the same continuous improvement and enhancement that we require of Faculties and Departments.

4. Putting the use of robust and reliable data at the core of our review processes and making these accessible to Faculties and Departments

Decisions about the quality of the University’s provision are increasingly derived from an evaluation of statutory data returns, most notably through the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). We will support Faculties and Departments to understand their performance through this lens by adopting the same approach where appropriate by:

  • Aligning the Continuous Monitoring and Enhancement (CME) process with the metrics used in the Teaching Excellent Framework and the University’s Access and Participation Plan.
  • Delivering institutional student satisfaction surveys at every level and undertaking sufficient analyses of the outcomes to enable the University, Faculties and Departments to understand how the experience and perceptions of our students evolve over time.
  • Identifying specific areas of need and supporting or, where appropriate, directly implementing, initiatives to drive enhancement.

5. Ensuring that the University’s quality assurance processes promote forward-thinking innovation to improve student outcomes

Taking an evaluative approach is crucial to understand what works and what does not when it comes to enhancing student outcomes. However, real and measurable improvements to outcomes can only be achieved by taking action. Therefore, our approach will switch emphasis from a culture of inward reflection and commentary, to one which encourages innovation in teaching and learning. We will do this by:

  • Working closely with the LTI to identify and share good practice in teaching and learning and incorporate these considerations, on an equal footing with standards, in our approval processes.
  • Ensuring that our review mechanisms remain supportive yet challenging in a collegial way. Our aim is that these should focus less on explanations for weaker metrics and instead encourage tangible actions to make improvements.