One of the elements that contribute to ensuring the validity, reliability and usefulness of the external quality assurance processes is external experts (peer review). Assessments carried out by panels of external experts are based on the observation and direct study of the actual situation under review. This enables the information being analysed to be specified and contextualised.
The assessment processes of QA agencies are based on the expertise of the panels. Besides, QA Agencies are in charge of managing and training of the experts. Another element that points to the importance of expert participation is the standard 2.4 “External quality assurance should be carried out by groups of external experts that include (a) student member(s)” included in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG, 2015).
The ESG establish some characteristics in order to ensure the value and the consistency of the work of the experts. More specifically, experts are carefully selected; they have appropriate skills and are competent to perform their tasks; and they are supported by appropriate training and/or briefing.
When creating external review panels it’s important that experts‘ profiles are aligned with the defined selection criteria. The first step in the usual process of creating a review panel is the opening of a call for experts. All the eligible candidates must apply to the call and once it is closed the most appropriate profiles are selected and subsequently trained on specific tasks to start performing the assessment activities (read reports and other documentation, analyse the evidences, organise the visit/interviews, carry out the visit/interviews, etc.). The final outcome is the elaboration of an assessment report indicating good practices and any critical aspects found in the previous tasks.
The composition of the panels depends on the type of the project. However, the usual profiles taking part in the panels are: academics, professionals in the labour market, students and QA personnel (methodologist expert).
Training of experts is carried out according to the project specificities, political-strategic and technical-operative frameworks and it usually focuses on the following issues:
· Introduction into the evaluation context
· Getting familiar with the documentation
· Assessment process (steps, protocol structure, etc.)
· Assessment criteria
· Preparation of reports
· Examples / Case studies – Feedback (Secretary)
· Results of previous calls (if possible)
· Computer tools
Another important element is related to the independence of the experts when participating in an assessment process. For this reason, QA agencies have to implement a mechanisms of no-conflict-of-interest. Besides, QA agencies also have a code of ethics which guides the conduct of the people who work and act on behalf of the agency.
All this elements will be taken into account when designing the process evaluation in the TeSLA project. Besides, the international dimension of external quality assurance will be guaranteed in the TeSLA project as the experts will be selected from any place of Europe.
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