Quality, Levels and Benchmarks


Let’s now look at the relationship between outcomes and quality assurance agencies, levels, and subject benchmarks. Now this will be very different depending on where you are in the world. It’ll depend on how your institution manages its own quality systems,  which national or regional authorities they’re ultimately responsible to.

So, do please take this with a pinch of salt. You need to map whatever I’m sharing with you, from my experience, and map it onto your own particular context. But I want to just think a little bit about why quality assurance agencies are so keen on well-structured learning outcomes (if they are indeed able to get their heads around it.)

The idea is that if you have consistent outcomes, you’re more likely to be able to guarantee academic standards across different institutions. So there’s a degree of comparability across institutions, teaching the same programme at the same level. Not necessarily exactly the same curriculum. But the same ideas, the same outcomes, the same targets that everyone is aiming towards.  It also allows you to then quantify the assessment of those outcomes at a national level, or regional level, and that’s also a very important comparator.

One of the reasons why institutions are starting to be a little bit more serious about writing really good outcomes is it makes the process of credit transfer between institutions, the recognition of prior accredited learning so much easier. If you have meaningful outcomes; if a student can present you with a course transcript that says these are the outcomes that I was assessed against at this level; it’s much easier to map that onto your own institutional expectation.

There are also then subject benchmarks and level frameworks. And both of those two things vary hugely depending on the international situation that you are in. But in most organizations, most countries, the quality assurance agency does have some oversight of both subject benchmarks and level frameworks. Each different quality assurance agency, each different national regime or international framework will have some variation.

You can see illustrated here, we’ve got the English framework for higher education qualifications with various levels, and particular awards pegged to that particular level. And you can see that that’s being mapped here onto the European Qualification Framework. There are links in the notes for a number of different national bodies that will give you a sense of how they map onto each other.

And you need to examine your own framework internationally to work out what level you are actually teaching at. It’s easier to think about it in terms of the first, second, third, fourth year of undergraduate study or postgraduate study, but it’s very difficult to peg that directly onto a specific level, because as I say, they vary from one country to the next, but you do need to be aware of what your level framework looks like in your country.

It’s worth also looking at whether there are subject benchmark statements for the discipline that you are writing your course. These are usually designed in fairly generic terms around whole discipline areas or fields of study. It could be history, business, architecture… and they are usually generic frameworks that state the kinds of things we would expect the student to be exposed to if they are to be awarded a named qualification in that field of study.

So this example is from the United Kingdom quality assurance agency. You need to explore whether there are similar instruments in your particular area as well.

Handout: Quality, Level, and Benchmarks


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