Quality and qualifications in Ireland: A collaborative approach
Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is the state agency responsible for promoting the quality, reputation and integrity of Ireland’s further and higher education and training system. Chief Executive Officer Padraig Walsh outlines the importance of strategic partnerships in the development and delivery of the organisation’s direction and priorities for the next three years.
The Covid context
For almost the last two years, the world, the country and education and training have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. QQI was well served during this challenging time by a focus on the integrity of the National Framework of Qualifications and confidence in the quality and reputation of the qualifications included in the framework.
The value of collaboration and engagement was highlighted during the pandemic when all partners – further and higher education institutions, institutional and learner representative bodies, funding agencies, IT service providers, the Department, and the Minister – worked together to provide a system-wide response to the challenges posed by Covid-19.
We prioritised the importance of analysing the impact of measures taken to maintain and improve the quality of education and training for the benefit of learners. This was never more important than when QQI was called upon by government to undertake an analysis of the steps taken to maintain the quality, integrity and reputation of further and higher education when the institutions offering these services were physically closed in March 2020.
A refocus on qualifications
As we worked over the past year on the development of our new statement of strategy, we sought to build on the priorities of previous strategies. Since our establishment, we have placed much emphasis on our quality assurance functions:
- the importance of agreeing new quality assurance procedures with our many further and higher education providers;
- the development of an integrated model for an institutional review of quality across the entire public higher education sector via the CINNTE model; and
- the first-ever review of quality in our education and training boards.
Our strategic planning called for a renewed emphasis on our role in the qualifications system, both as the custodian of the National Framework of Qualifications and as an awarding body in our own right.
In 2019, we also received new powers through amending legislation:
- to widen the range of awarding bodies that can have their qualifications included in the National Framework of Qualifications;
- the power to regulate the provision of English language education on a statutory basis for the first time; and
- the authority to protect the integrity of education and training by highlighting the danger to academic integrity posed by the proliferation of global contract cheating services and so-called ‘essay mills’.
All these considerations fed into the development of QQI’s new statement of strategy.
A new strategic direction
Our new strategy is guided by a focus on four key priority areas:
Better information on the progression pathways across and between further and higher education is vital for school-leavers and for all those seeking learning opportunities. In our strategy, we commit to upgrading our information platforms and services – the introduction of a new corporate website; redevelopment and modernising of Qualifax, the national learners’ database; and positioning of the Irish Register of Qualification as the authoritative source of quality-assured qualifications included in the National Framework of Qualifications. We will increase learner choice and opportunities by including more qualifications in the NFQ from other recognised awarding bodies and increased access to flexible and innovative micro-credentials.
The implementation of strengthened regulation to protect our learners will see QQI continue to work with the provider-led National Academic Integrity Network to promote and maintain awareness of academic integrity and the monitoring of those seeking to undermine it.
A statutory learner protection fund will provide security to learners in independent private education and training providers offering QQI awards. Tthe awarding of the International Education Mark to qualifying English language and higher education providers will provide greater confidence to international students coming to study in Ireland.
Support for provider development will be enabled through engagement with community education providers to ensure that their learners continue to have access to education and training qualifications in the NFQ, and with the education and training boards to drive capacity-building for flexible and agile programme development. Specifically, we will facilitate increased autonomy and flexibility for mature independent providers of higher education by enabling them to pursue delegated authority to make their own awards.
Drawing on our extensive data and knowledge, we will publish authoritative analysis and insight of benefit to the wider tertiary education and training sector. Through our significant networks of peer agencies, we will continue to evaluate the experience of remote and blended learning, contributing to and influencing national policy.
In this year, the 10th anniversary of QQI’s establishment, we will reflect on the achievements of the past decade with a series of publications and events which will celebrate the successes to date and the challenges and opportunities in the decade ahead.
Partnership and excellence
None of these challenging objectives can be achieved without the enabling contribution of excellence and partnership.
Over the last year, we have been building organisational excellence through the recruitment of new staff to deliver on our new regulatory functions and investment in all our staff to develop an agile, engaged, responsive and motivated workforce. This will be underpinned by embedding sustainability in our work processes and facilitating more flexible work practices.
Finally, if there is one thing we learned during the past 20 months, it is the importance of strengthening strategic partnerships to create system change, whether through the efforts of the National Tertiary Education System Covid-19 Steering Group or the information provided by individual further and higher education providers and learner representative bodies that allowed QQI to analyse the impact of Covid-19 on teaching, learning and assessment.
We will continue with this spirit of collaboration through the establishment of the Irish Quality and Qualifications Forum to harness the concerted efforts of a multitude of actors to preserve the strengths of our existing systems and implement change for the better.
We hope that our many partners across the tertiary education and training system recognise themselves in our new strategy and we look forward to delivering on our common vision of an Ireland that offers diverse high-quality further and higher education opportunities and enables learners to reach their full potential through qualifications that are widely valued nationally and internationally.
Tel: +353 1 905 8100