The engineering benchmark statement is invaluable, let’s defend it well

The Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Subject benchmark statements show the minimum expectations of the knowledge and skills a student needs in order to graduate, subject-by-subject. Engineering is now up for consultation.

Subject benchmark statements help students (and parents or advisers) find out about degree programmes about which they may not have a great deal of knowledge. It is important that potential future engineers know what to look for in a good course are understand the importance of professional standing to their career prospects.

They are also key in supporting how academics and professional staff design, review and validate degree courses. As well as critical touch points for professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) when setting their content and outcomes requirements.

Originating from a longstanding history of agreed sector standards developed by the QAA on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, the subject benchmark statements were devolved from the UK Quality Code in 2018. The Quality Code is now short, concise and understood and respected by providers, PEIs and internationally.

Even better, the revised Statements consider the role of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), enterprise and entrepreneurship, and accessibility for disabled students within the context of the respective discipline area.

Together, the Quality Code and Subject Benchmark Statements are a celebration of co-regulation within the overall quality framework and it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that the subject benchmarks continue to represent a subject-nuanced commitment to a component of UK wide co-regulation.

The OfS’ new regulatory quality and standards framework, meanwhile, has dropped all mentions of the Quality Code from the guidance underpinning quality and standards conditions. Following the UK Quality Code is not necessary to meet the OfS’s regulatory requirements and there is no interaction between any aspect of the UK Quality Code and the conditions of registration.

The EPC, together wih a substantial number of other respondents, protested during consultation for the new framework. Isn’t there much to be gained from considering, preserving and enhancing the features of the UK’s HE system that give rise to world-leading status? We urged OfS to be careful to value the existing and well-understood external mechanisms in place in providers to secure standards (including the necessary subject nuance). Evidenced by the widespread use of the UK Quality Code and Subject Benchmark Statements by external examiners, peer reviewers, Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) and the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance European Higher Education Area (ESG).

In reply, the OfS set out its reasoning for excluding the UK Quality Code (in the interests of clarity and enforcement and of concerns about the model overall) in the analysis of responses to the phase one consultation (paragraphs 203-227) stating that, “the removal of references to the UK Quality Code improves the clarity of our regulatory requirements, because we are able to be clear that neither the expectations nor the advice and guidance of the UK Quality Code form part of the OfS’s regulatory requirements”.

Does it matter that the OfS has different ideas?

That “providers may still choose to refer to the UK Quality Code if they find it helpful” foretells that the value and purpose of the subject benchmark statements, at least, pervade the sector to an extent that they have longevity.

None-the-less, providers should note that there are likely to be some parts of the Code which would lead to practice that OfS “would consider non-compliant with our regulatory requirements” and are firmly advised to “take advantage of the significant opportunity this creates to dismantle complex internal processes that may have accreted over many years as a consequence of seeking to comply with the UK Quality Code”.

So, providers must focus their efforts on “delivering high-quality courses to students, rather than on complex assurance and reporting processes that are not required by the OfS”. But if clarity of the knowledge and skills a student needs in order to graduate don’t underpin high-quality course design, review, validation, accreditation, external examination, peer review and delivery to students, we’ll eat our hats.

Please do help keep the engineering subject benchmark statement relevant and useful. Details of how to respond to the consultation can be found here.

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