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The revised approach will come into effect in England from 2016-17.

A revised operating model for quality assessment

The revised approach to quality assessment is designed to be proportionate, risk-based and grounded in the mission and context of an individual university or college and the composition of its student body. It will target regulatory activity on those institutions that represent greater risk to the student interest or to the reputation of the sector.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, said:

'Our ambition is for a quality assessment system that has the confidence of students, employers and the taxpayer, encourages excellence and innovation in learning and teaching, and enhances the international reputation of UK higher education.

'Our revised approach builds on established strengths and good practice, including institutions’ own robust quality assurance systems. It reflects detailed consultation with a wide range of stakeholders: we have listened carefully to the views of the sector, students and others, and we are grateful for their contributions.

'A clear and consistent message was that the increasing diversity and dynamism of the sector means that one size of quality assessment can no longer fit all, and that future arrangements should encourage continuous improvement and innovation in learning and teaching for the benefit of students. These aims are at the heart of the revised approach.

'We are working closely and constructively with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the revised approach aligns with the Government’s proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework and a single gateway for all providers. The revised approach, and the transition arrangements for 2016-17, also meet the Home Office’s requirements for educational oversight.

'Our joint aim, strongly endorsed by the sector, is for a single, coherent quality assessment system with a clear focus on excellent outcomes.'

Key components

The revised operating model consists of three core elements:

  • baseline regulatory requirements, with a single gateway for entry to the higher education system and a period of closer engagement and monitoring for recent entrants
  • risk-based and context-sensitive review arrangements for established providers, with rapid, tailored intervention when things go wrong
  • protection of the international reputation of UK higher education, including the quality assurance of transnational education.

There will also be strengthened arrangements for securing degree standards and their reasonable comparability across the UK. This work will be led by the sector representative bodies.

Students play a crucial role as partners in the design and operation of quality assessment arrangements. We will continue to work with students and their representative bodies as the new arrangements take shape.

Externality is a crucial element of the revised approach and independent peer review is designed into each element of the operating model. HEFCE will also be looking to external organisations with relevant expertise and experience to help deliver the revised operating model. Information about the single procurement process will be published on HEFCE's procurement portal.

Piloting and transition arrangements

During 2016-17 we will be testing and developing aspects of the new approach with the sector and students prior to implementation in 2017-18. We are putting in place transition arrangements for those providers who had been scheduled for QAA Higher Education Review (HER) during 2016-17. We have written to all universities and colleges with details of piloting and transition arrangements.


  1. See more about the review of quality assessment. An analysis of responses was published in November 2015: see ‘Future approaches to quality assessment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Analysis of responses to consultation’ (HEFCE 2015/30).