Over the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in establishing and implementing robust, comparable quality assurance processes throughout much of the European higher education sector. However, concerns persist over degree portability and recognition as current systems are rooted in national contexts. In particular, specialised accreditation for professional degrees is ill-understood cross-nationally. This study explores approaches and practices in quality assurance and accreditation for professional degrees using the example of urban, regional and spatial planning. Schemes in the UK, Poland and Germany reveal considerable variation in stakeholder influence and involvement of the profession in accreditation. Closer alignment of curricula with professional standards seems to increase practice-relevance and recognition nationally but not necessarily degree portability within Europe. International or pan-European professional accreditation would therefore be desirable but remains so far elusive.
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Universities in the UK have traditionally enjoyed a far-reaching autonomy in respect to programme provision and degree awarding powers (Brennan & Williams, 2004). They nowadays also administer to a large extent their own quality assurance, albeit under oversight of the UK’s independent Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), which was established in 1997 following concerns over institutional accountability. The QAA is funded jointly by subscription fees of universities and colleges and by the Higher Education Funding Councils of England and Northern Ireland (HEFCE), Scotland (SHEFC) and Wales (HEFCW) and has been a full member of ENQA since 2000. Up to 2001, the QAA conducted teaching quality and subject audits at institutions itself but has since focused predominately on less resource-intensive meta-reviews that evaluate ‘how well the institutions fulfil their responsibilities’ toward quality assurance and enhancement and whether internal quality review and monitoring systems are effective (QAA, n.d.). Consequently, UK institutions spent considerable resources and attention on quality assurance.
- higher education
- national approaches
- planning education
- professional accreditation
- quality assurance
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