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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Frequently Asked Questions

​In this section you will find answers to some common questions about several aspects of QAA's​ work within the higher education section. If your query is still not answered within this page, please get in touch with our QAA Enquiries line at enquires@qaa.ac.uk

 

General questions

I have a complaint about my university. What should I do?

You should first follow the complaints procedure of the institution concerned, then, if necessary, contact the OIA or the SPSO. QAA has no power to consider personal complaints from students or staff.

If you supply evidence that the institution has jeopardised academic standards or the quality of its programmes QAA will consider opening a Causes for Concern enquiry.

​​​Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) (opens in new window)

Telephone: +44 (0)118 959 9813

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) (opens in new window)

Telephone: +44 (0)800 377 7330

Concerns about standards and quality in higher educat​ion

Is X course at ​X university accredited/recognised?

Lists of recognised universities and providers are held by BIS.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (opens in new window)

What level is my qualification?

Your awarding institution will be able to tell you. QAA's frameworks for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland outline the different levels.

Frameworks for higher education qualifications

Where can I find, review and compare official information about higher​ education providers?

Official information regarding subjects and universities/colleges can be found at the Unistats website.

​Unistats (opens in new windo​w)

How do I apply to university?

For full-time undergraduate courses, contact UCAS. For part-time or postgraduate courses, apply to the institution you wish to study at.

UCAS (opens in new window)

Where can I find information on further education or lower level qualifications?

Ofqual, and in Scotland the SQA, can answer queries about lower level qualifications. QAA deals with higher education.

Ofqual (opens in new window)

Scottish Qualifications Author​ity (SQA) (opens in new window)

I have a qualification from X country. What is the equivalent as a UK qualification?

UK NARIC (opens in new window) provides information on the comparability of international qualifications.

What is Access to Higher Education (HE)? How do I apply?

The Access to HE website (opens in new win​dow) provides full details including courses and providers in your local area.

Does QAA review Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

At present, QAA does not review Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). For more information, please see our Statement on Massive Open Online Courses (PDF, 68KB).

 

Questions about our Concerns Scheme

​Who can raise a concern with QAA?

Any individual or organisation anywhere in the world may raise a concern with us.

What kind of concerns can you investigate?

We can investigate concerns about standards, quality and information that higher education providers produce about their learning opportunities, with respect to providers of UK higher education. The Concerns wizard can help you identify if your concerns are something we can investigate.

Can I raise a concern about a course at a further education college?

It depends on the level of the course: if your concern is about is a higher education course, we may be able to investigate; if it is not, then we cannot investigate, but the Skills Funding Agency may be able to. The Skills Funding Agency must investigate allegations of irregularity in further education colleges. It can also investigate complaints about the quality or management of learning provision, undue delay or non-compliance with published procedures, poor administration, equal opportunities, and health and safety.

I am one of a group of students on the same course and we all have the same concerns about it. What should we do?

We can investigate concerns raised by groups of students. The documents in support of the concern need only be submitted once, but every student needs to complete and sign their own submission form to ensure we have the information we need.

Link to our Submission form

I live abroad. Can you still investigate my concern if I am not in the UK?

Yes, as long as you provide us with all your contact details. We can correspond with you via email.

I would like to take legal action against the higher education provider I am concerned about. Can you help?

No, we cannot help you with this. Our remit is to investigate concerns about academic standards and quality, and advise the relevant HE funding body if a higher education provider is not managing its responsibilities properly. We cannot compel universities or colleges to offer anyone any kind of compensation or redress, or support those raising concerns should they wish to try and do so through the courts.

My concern has been upheld and I want my higher education provider to remark my work. Can QAA make it do this?

The aim of an investigation by QAA under the Concerns Scheme is to safeguard and improve the overall quality of UK higher education by addressing weaknesses within a particular higher education provider. We cannot compel universities or colleges to take any particular action for individual students in response to our investigations.

Why can QAA only investigate concerns about ongoing issues?

We have no remit to compel higher education providers to offer complainants any kind of compensation or redress for past problems which have been rectified. Therefore, it is beyond our remit and our mission to investigate concerns about issues which have been resolved.

Can I raise concerns about a private or alternative higher education provider?

We can investigate private or alternative higher education providers which have applied to QAA for educational oversight, applied to QAA for Reviews for Specific Course Designation or those which provide higher education programmes validated by a UK university. If in doubt, please contact us.

The higher education provider I am concerned about is not one of your subscribers. What do I do?

We can investigate concerns about any provider with higher educaiton programmes validated by a UK university. If in doubt, please contact us.

I want to remain anonymous. Can I do that?

If you do not want to be identified by name during the investigation, you can tell us on the submission form. Please note that, although QAA will not disclose your personal details without your permission, by completing the submission form you give permission to QAA to discuss details of your case with the higher education provider concerned, and any other appropriate organisations that we may need to consult in the course of our investigations. It is important you are aware that we may not always be able to preserve your anonymity as you may be identifiable to the provider through the details of your submission.

What happens to the higher education provider if my concern is upheld?

We will make recommendations and agree an action plan with the provider. We will publish a report, an action plan, and a statement alongside the action plan when it is complete.

We will inform the relevant higher education funding body, which may take further action. However, we cannot compel the provider to offer you any kind of compensation or redress.

Can QAA assist me in obtaining refunds for tuition fees?

We do not resolve individual complaints against providers and we are unable to provide redress or compensation to any individual submitting a complaint to us. As such, we are unable to provide assistance for any claims against a provider for a tuition fee refunds.

However, we can look at individual complaints for evidence of broader failings in the management of academic quality and standards. Where we consider that these indicate serious systemic or procedural problems, we will investigate them as concerns.

 

Questions about degree-awarding powers and University Titles

Who grants degree-awarding powers and university titles?

The power to award degrees is regulated by law. To be able to award a recognised higher education degree in the UK, an organisation must be authorised by statute, by Royal Charter or by Act of Parliament. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (FHEA 1992) and the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 authorised the Privy Council (opens in a new window) to specify institutions of higher education as competent to grant taught degree-awarding powers (TDAP) and research degree-awarding powers (RDAP). These Acts also authorised the Privy Council to approve the use of the word 'university' (including 'university college') in the title of a higher education institution. Amendments to the FHEA 1992 enabled the Privy Council to grant Foundation Degree awarding powers (FDAP) to further education institutions in England from 2008 and in Wales from 2010.

What powers are granted?

There are three different types of power that may be granted:

Foundation Degree awarding powers (FDAP) give further education colleges the right to award Foundation Degrees.

Taught degree-awarding powers (TDAP) give organisations the right to award taught degrees up to levels 6/7 of The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and up to levels 10/11 of The framework for qualifications of the higher education institutions in Scotland (see Quality Code, Chapter A1)

Research degree-awarding powers (RDAP) give organisations that already hold TDAP the right to award doctoral degrees, and master's degrees where the research component (including a requirement to produce original work) is larger than the taught component when measured by student effort.

Who can apply for degree-awarding powers?

Applicants for DAP must meet all the prerequisites and criteria set out in the relevant guidance. They must be able to demonstrate that they are well founded, cohesive and self-critical academic communities with an established track record in providing higher education, combined with firm guardianship of their standards.

In broad terms, applicants for Foundation Degree awarding powers must be further education institutions with at least a four-year track record of offering higher education provision in England or Wales on behalf of a recognised body (opens in a new window). Applicants for research degree-awarding powers must already have taught degree-awarding powers and must meet additional criteria relating to their research community. QAA scrutinises all applications against the government-owned criteria and guidance. On this basis, we provide confidential advice to ministers as to whether applicants should be granted the powers for which they are applying.

Who can apply for university titles?

For university title (UT) in England and Wales, applicants must have taught-degree awarding powers. The criteria are set out in our guidance criteria and on the BIS website (opens in a new window).

For UT in Scotland and Northern Ireland, applicants must also have research degree-awarding powers and meet certain numerical criteria, as described in the 1999 guidance on applications within the guidance and criteria section.

How does an organisation apply for degree-awarding powers?

A formal application should be made to the Privy Council in the form of a critical self-analysis, prefaced by a letter from the chair of the organisation's governing body. A letter from the head of its main validating institution(s) should also be provided with the application. Evidence on which the critical self-analysis is based should also be uploaded to QAA. The applicant is also required to complete templates indicating where in the critical self-analysis and in its evidence base it addresses the criteria and associated evidence required.

For more details see the guidance for applicants.

What is the role of the devolved administrations in the UK?

An application for DAP or UT is made to the Privy Council and to the relevant government department with responsibility for higher education. In England this is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the responsibility lies with the departments responsible for higher education in the devolved administrations. QAA will consider and scrutinise an application upon receipt of a request from the relevant government department to do so, and will then advise the relevant minister accordingly.

What criteria are applied?

Applications are considered against a specified set of government-owned criteria, depending upon the type of degree-awarding powers sought, and upon the provider's location within the UK. Full details of the separate sets of guidance can be found on the guidance for applicants page. QAA will assess, through examination of the evidence provided, and against the criteria, the extent to which a higher education provider can engender public confidence in its capacity to maintain the academic standards of the degrees it offers in the UK and, where relevant, overseas.

What is QAA's role in the process?

QAA offers confidential advice to government. Once the Privy Council (via the relevant government department) asks QAA to consider an application, it is submitted to QAA's Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers (ACDAP), which determines whether the application should proceed to detailed scrutiny. If so, QAA appoints a team to carry out such scrutiny, resulting in a report to ACDAP and, ultimately, to the QAA Board. This, in turn, informs QAA's advice to government.

What happens during the scrutiny process?

If the Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers (ACDAP) agrees to proceed to the detailed scrutiny stage, QAA appoints a scrutiny team which considers and tests the evidence provided by the applicant to support its claim to meet the criteria for DAP or UT. The team members consider the documentary evidence and, collectively and individually, will visit the applicant organisation for meetings and observations. For taught degree-awarding powers and Foundation Degree awarding powers, this process typically takes place over an academic cycle, although this will depend on the quality and robustness of the evidence available. For research degree-awarding powers and university title, the detailed scrutiny period is generally shorter. At the end of the detailed scrutiny, the team submits a report to ACDAP.

QAA will be assessing, through its examination of the evidence provided, and against the criteria, the extent to which a higher education provider can engender public confidence in its capacity to maintain the academic standards of the degrees it offers in the UK and, where relevant, overseas. For more details see the page detailing the guidance for applicants.

What is the Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers?

Currently the Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers (ACDAP) comprises 14 members, representing a range of higher education providers and including two with experience of major sectors of employment. It is responsible for overseeing the scrutiny processes, and for making recommendations on applications to the QAA Board.

How much does it cost?

Costs are based on the type of awarding powers applied for and whether the applicant organisation is a subscriber to QAA: details of the fee structure.

Does QAA publish its findings?

Unlike QAA's review work, our consideration and scrutiny of applications for DAP and UT is work commissioned by government and is of a confidential, advisory nature.

Are the awarding powers permanent?

Organisations in the publicly funded higher education sector will be granted taught and research degree-awarding powers on an indefinite basis. All remaining organisations, including applicants for Foundation Degree awarding powers, will be granted their powers for a fixed term of six years, after which they can apply to the Privy Council for renewal (subject to a satisfactory review by QAA).

 

Whom should we contact for further information?

From time to time there may be changes to government policy that impact on the information offered here. Updates and other items of interest will be published on this website. For further information on making an application for degree-awarding powers or university title, please contact us at enquiries@qaa.ac.uk.

 

Questions about educational oversight and annual monitoring

Who can apply for educational oversight?

Applicant providers must satisfy the 'requirements of providers seeking and maintaining educational oversight'. An applicant provider must:

  • demonstrate a commitment to maintaining and enhancing the reputation of UK higher education
  • be registered at Companies House or be a registered charity
  • have the majority of its students studying higher education programmes (level 4 or above on one of the UK qualifications frameworks)
  • provide evidence that it has delivered higher education programmes in the UK for at least one (academic) year at the date of application
  • be offering programmes that are accredited by an awarding body (a recognised body) or an Ofqual-regulated awarding organisation, or be an Association of Chartered Certified Accountants approved learning partner at either Gold or Platinum level
  • have a current signed agreement with an awarding body/organisation to deliver programmes
  • carry out its own responsibilities and not devolve to another provider any part of those responsibilities, subsequent to a successful Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) review outcome
  • follow the procedures that it has set out in formal submissions to QAA to demonstrate how it meets the expectations of higher education standards and quality management
  • make resources available to implement fully the approved procedures that are set out in its formal documentation or submissions to QAA, and recommendations made by QAA arising from review or from any concerns about standards and quality in higher education investigation
  • pay an annual 'maintenance fee' towards the costs of maintaining and developing QAA activities to deal with enquiries, appeals, complaints and concerns
  • inform QAA immediately of any situation which poses serious financial threat to the provider, or which renders it unable, or likely to be unable, to meet its obligations to its students
  • submit a completed application form with supporting documentation and fee by midday on 5 September 2014

How does the application process work?

Please see the addendum in Higher Education Review (Plus): A handbook for alternative providers undergoing review in 2014-15

New applicants for Educational Oversight who are independent colleges providing higher education programmes in association with awarding bodies and/or awarding organisations are required to undergo Higher Education Review (Plus)

Application: New applicants are first required to submit an application form, which QAA uses to determine the eligibility of an applicant for oversight by QAA

Check on financial sustainability, management and governance: Applicants whose applications are accepted by QAA at the first stage progress to the second stage of the process, the check on financial sustainability, management and governance ('the FSMG check').

Review of quality assurance arrangements: Applicants who successfully pass the FSMG check go on to the third stage of the process, the review of quality assurance arrangements.

In some cases it may be necessary to for the second and third stages of the process to overlap or to run concurrently. This is most likely to occur when applicants need to complete the review process more quickly than would be possible if the two stages took place in sequence, or where there are material issues identified as part of the FSMG check which the provider undertakes to address by the end of the review process.

How do I know whether to apply to QAA or to the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)?

If most of your qualifications are at level 3 or below (further education), then you should apply to ISI. If your qualifications are mainly at level 4 or above (higher education), then you should apply to QAA.

QAA and ISI are working closely to ensure a smooth process for applicants for educational oversight. If you are unclear about which designated body to apply to, please check the Guidance note for applications for educational oversight by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) or contact QAA at edoversight@qaa.ac.uk. Organisations need only apply to ISI or QAA. If you apply to the wrong designated body, ISI or QAA will pass on your application form to the other designated body.

My organisation offers a mix of further education and higher education qualifications. Will we have to undergo two separate reviews?

No. ISI and QAA are working together to ensure a commonality of approach. The information you provide in your application will confirm whether your organisation predominantly offers higher education programmes - and is eligible for educational oversight by QAA - or predominantly offers further education or English language programmes, and is eligible for educational oversight by ISI. Where there is uncertainty about the mix of programmes, please check the joint statement from educational oversight bodies.

We are a new college. Can we apply for educational oversight?

Each applicant must provide evidence that it has delivered higher education programmes in the UK for at least one (academic) year at the date of application.

We are an overseas higher education institution operating in the UK. Can we apply for educational oversight?

QAA will, in addition, provide educational oversight of certain foreign providers offering full recognised overseas degree programmes in the UK, working appropriately with their counterparts in the provider's country of origin. Accredited US institutions listed on the US Department of Education website that offer US degree courses are able to apply to QAA, along with associate members (or third party providers) of the Association of American Study Abroad Programmes UK. Foreign providers offering complete degrees from other countries should contact QAA in the first instance. We will, on advice on the recognition of the provider, confirm whether we are able to review their education provision.

I run a language school. Is my college eligible for educational oversight by QAA?

No. You will need to apply to ISI.

When can I apply to QAA for educational oversight?

QAA will accept new applications for educational oversight until midday on 5 September 2014. Reviews will be scheduled for 2015.

What happens if my application is late?

QAA cannot accept applications after midday on 5 September 2014.

Is there a judgement resulting from the application form?

Applicant providers must satisfy the 'requirements of providers seeking and maintaining educational oversight'. (See: Who can apply for educational oversight?)

The application process is intended to be both developmental and judgemental in the sense that:

  • QAA can be assured that an applicant is a genuine organisation
  • it distinguishes between whether an applicant should be reviewed by QAA or inspected by ISI
  • it ensures that applicants have an appropriate quality assurance framework to proceed to a review

This last point is also the developmental aspect. It is in nobody's interest for organisations that do not have a recognisably coherent quality assurance framework to progress to a review. This is not to say that if an applicant satisfies the eligibility criteria, they will gain confidence judgements in their review.

QAA will carefully consider the application forms on an initial basis and come to a view on the eligibility of an applicant for educational oversight, and whether there is a sufficiently coherent and robust quality assurance framework against which a QAA review team could undertake a review.

What do I have to submit with my application form?

The application states: 'Please provide details of the total number of students based on headcount (not full-time equivalents) enrolled on programmes over the last three years and including 2013-2014'. Should this include distance learners who are not attending college courses? These students are studying their courses at a distance, some in the UK and others overseas.

We would be grateful if you could provide details of all your registered students, whether distance learning or face-to-face. The application form asks you to distinguish between the number of students that are UK/EEA students and those that are from outside of the EEA.

What are the fees for educational oversight from QAA?

Are there instalment payment options?

No

When will we need to pay for the next stages of this process?

Applicant providers will be notified of their eligibility to proceed by the end of September 2014. The fee for the second stage of the process, the FSMG check, must be paid by Friday 17 October 2014. The fee for the review of quality assurance arrangements will be invoiced by QAA and must be paid in full 12 weeks before the review visit.

Are any of the fees refundable?

No.

Are the fees refundable if we cancel our review?

No.

Are the fees refundable if we are unsuccessful?

No.

Will I have to pay an annual maintenance fee?

Yes. The annual maintenance fee includes scrutiny of the annual return and any subsequent monitoring visit. Providers who apply for educational oversight in 2014 to have a review in 2015 will have to pay an annual maintenance fee annually beginning in January 2016.

How soon after applying will QAA review my organisation?

QAA will conduct the reviews throughout 2015. Applicants who proceed to the review stage of educational oversight by QAA will be notified of their eligibility to proceed by the end of September 2014

How will reviews be prioritised?

All new educational oversight reviews by QAA will take place between January and December 2015. We request on your application form that you let us know your term and exam dates. All QAA reviews include meetings with students and so we will need to schedule your review during term time. Where possible we will try to accommodate requests for specific dates for a review, but we are unable to guarantee that we can accommodate all requests.

Will QAA provide guidance on the review process?

Our handbooks for educational oversight reviews are available on the QAA website and contain full information about the review process. Applicants who are accepted to go forward for a review will be invited to a briefing event provided by QAA. The briefing event will include information about educational oversight reviews and self-evaluation.

There is more than one review handbook, which handbook is most appropriate for me?

Assuming that your application for educational oversight by QAA has been approved and that you proceed to the review stage, QAA will write to you confirming which type of educational oversight review will apply to you. The majority of applicants will undergo a Higher Education Review (Plus).

How much will I have to pay for the annual maintenance fee?

Please see the fee schedule for 2015.

QAA does not receive any funding to cover the direct costs incurred in educational oversight. Consequently, the costs of such activity must be borne by applicant organisations. QAA is a non-profit-making organisation.

What does the annual maintenance fee include?

The annual maintenance fee includes scrutiny of the annual return and any subsequent monitoring visit. A separate fee will be payable if a full review is required instead of a monitoring visit (see the fee schedule for 2015).

When should I submit the annual return?

The annual return should normally be submitted to QAA not more than nine months after your last review and at least three months before the date of your annual monitoring visit. You will receive specific information from QAA advising you of the deadline for your annual return.

How can I find out more information about the annual return or the annual monitoring visit?

Please see our guidance note on the annual monitoring process. QAA will be holding several briefing events during the autumn term 2014. Providers will be invited to attend these events in due course.

Whom do I contact for further information?

If you have any further questions about educational oversight from QAA, please email edoversight@qaa.ac.uk or phone 01452 557098.

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