Continuous improvement of the quality of teaching and learning is a core task of universities. Institutions can help each other to improve through mutual assistance and benchmarking. The Commission supports such cooperation activities via university networks and associations.
Quality assurance also has an external component as institutions are evaluated regularly by an external quality assurance agency. The reports of these evaluations are published and increasingly put on the Erasmus-supported database ‘Qrossroads’. Most Agencies are or have already applied to become members of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), which the Commission helped to create in 2000 and supports with Erasmus project grants.
Both universities and agencies must comply with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance for the Higher Education Area, adopted by Bologna Ministers in Bergen in May 2005. Agencies that comply with the standards and guidelines may apply to be listed in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR). The Register is open to agencies operating in Europe, be they national or international, public or private, general or subject-specific. The Commission is supporting the development of a series of subject-specific European quality labels, which could/may lend their standards to existing agencies or become agencies in their own right. Examples include the EUR-ACE label in engineering and the Eurobachelor, Euromaster and Eurodoctorate labels in chemistry.
The impressive progress made in European quality assurance over the last decade is the result of a fruitful interaction between Bologna Ministerial decisions, EU Council and Parliament Recommendations (1998 and 2006) and sector initiatives, assisted by Erasmus grant support. Thanks to these joint efforts, institutions are better informed about their strengths and weaknesses and students can more easily find detailed information on the quality of individual institutions or programmes.
Notwithstanding this overall positive development, the European dimension of quality assurance is still limited. There are only a few examples of institutions seeking evaluation or accreditation from foreign agencies and there exist only a few examples of governments opening up quality assurance in their country to other registered agencies. As a result, there is little comparative information, which hinders mobility and further quality improvement.
In its Report on progress in quality assurance in higher education (2009), the European Commission invited all stakeholders concerned to: