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Glossary of terms used on this site

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Term Definition

Approval of courses, qualifications, or diplomas from one (domestic or foreign) higher education institution by another for the purpose of student admission to further studies. Academic recognition can also be sought for an academic career at a second institution and in some cases for access to other employment activities on the labour market (academic recognition for professional purposes). As regards the European Higher Education Area, three main levels of recognition can be considered, as well as the instruments attached to them (as suggested by the Lisbon Convention and the Bologna Declaration): (i) recognition of qualifications, including prior learning and professional experience, allowing entry or re-entry into higher education; (ii) recognition of short study periods in relation to student mobility, having as the main instrument the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System); (iii) recognition of full degrees, having as the main instrument the Diploma Supplement.


The process by which a (non-) governmental or private body evaluates the quality of a higher education institution as a whole or of a specific educational programme in order to formally recognize it as having met certain predetermined minimal criteria or standards. The result of this process is usually the awarding of a status (a yes/no decision), of recognition, and sometimes of a license to operate within a time-limited validity. The process can imply initial and periodic self-study and evaluation by external peers.


Credit accumulation is the process of collecting credits for learning within degree programmes. In a credit accumulation system a specified number of credits must be obtained in order to complete successfully a study programme or part thereof, according to the requirements of the programme. Credits are awarded and accumulated only when the successful achievement of the required learning outcomes is confirmed by assessment. Learners can use the credit accumulation system to transfer or “cash in” credits achieved from work-based learning/different programmes within and between educational institutions. Credits are also transferable between programmes in the same institution, between different institutions within the same country, or intentionally (often with certain limits about the proportion of the total that can be transferred). Credit gained by a student in a given higher education institution may be recognized in another institution, depending upon the commonality in terms of level and context. The process allows learners to study individual units and modules without immediately achieving an academic award, and also allows for the award of interim awards where students do not complete a full programme leading to the award of a degree. In every case it is the institution that will award the degree that decides which credits earned elsewhere can be accepted as part of the work required for the degree.


1. The process of the systematic gathering, quantifying, and using of information in view of judging the instructional effectiveness and the curricular adequacy of a higher education institution as a whole (institutional assessment) or of its educational programmes (programme assessment). It implies the evaluation of the core activities of the higher education institution (quantitative and qualitative evidence of educational activities and research outcomes). Assessment is necessary in order to validate a formal accreditation decision, but it does not necessarily lead to an accreditation outcome.

2. A technically designed process for evaluating student learning outcomes and for improving student learning and development as well as teaching effectiveness.


The process of reviewing an institution or a programme that is primarily focused on the accountability of the latter, evaluating/determining if the stated aims and objectives (in terms of curriculum, staff, infrastructure, etc.) are met.


1. The document prepared following a quality assessment peer review team site visit that is generally focused on institutional quality, academic standards, learning infrastructure, and staffing. The report about an institution describes the quality assurance (QA) arrangements of the institution and the effects of these arrangements on the quality of its programmes. The audit report is made available to the institution, first in draft form for initial comments, and then in its final, official form. It contains, among other things, the description of the method of the audit, the findings, the conclusions of the auditors, and various appendices listing the questions asked. In Europe, the document is often called an “evaluation report” or an “assessment report”. 2. Such a report may also be prepared about an accreditation agency, describing its quality assurance arrangements and the effect of these arrangements on the quality of the programmes in the institutions for which it is responsible.


A standard, a reference point, or a criterion against which the quality of something can be measured, judged, and evaluated, and against which outcomes of a specified activity can be measured. The term, benchmark, means a measure of best practice performance. The definition of a benchmark is one necessary step in the overall process of benchmarking.


Explicit national statements of academic standards or outcomes for individual subjects. Some countries (e.g., the United Kingdom) develop benchmarks of this type in regard to a certain group of subjects as part of their quality assurance process.


A standardized method for collecting and reporting critical operational data in a way that enables relevant comparisons among the performances of different organizations or programmes, usually with a view to establishing good practice, diagnosing problems in performance, and identifying areas of strength. Benchmarking gives the organization (or the programme) the external references and the best practices on which to base its evaluation and to design its working processes.


A superior method or an innovative process involving an actual accepted range of safe and reasonable practices resulting in the improved performance of a higher education institution or programme, usually recognized as “best” by other peer organizations. A best practice does not necessarily represent an absolute, ultimate example or pattern, the application of which assures the improved performance of a higher education institution or programme; rather, it has to do with identifying the best approach to a specific situation, as institutions and programmes vary greatly in constituencies and scope.


The process by which an agency or an association acknowledges the achievement of established quality standards and usually grants certain privileges to the target individual (student or teacher).


A Code of Practice is a document, with no mandatory requirements, that describes the minimum audit requirements and those that are considered to reveal a practice worthy of consideration. A Code identifies a comprehensive series of system-wide expectations covering matters relating to the management of academic quality and standards in higher education. It provides an authoritative reference point for institutions as they consciously, actively, and systematically assure the academic quality and standards of their programmes, awards, and qualifications. A Code assumes that, taking into account nationally agreed upon principles and practices, each institution has its own systems for independent verification both of its quality and standards and of the effectiveness of its quality assurance systems. In developing a Code, extensive advice is sought from a range of knowledgeable practitioners.


Competences represent a dynamic combination of cognitive and metacognitive skills, knowledge and understanding, interpersonal, intellectual and practical skills and ethical values. Fostering these competences is the object of all educational programmes. Competences are developed in all course units and assessed at different stages of a programme. Some competences are subject-area related (specific to a field of study), while others are generic (common to any degree course). It is normally the case that competence development proceeds in an integrated and cyclical manner throughout a programme.


Level of core competencies, relevant knowledge, and skills within a subject area, i.e., everything a student should know and be able to do. Content standards shape what goes into the curriculum and refer to required inputs.


Results that can be quantified; all measures of student outcomes except learning gains, including executive function skills, and affective-related measures. Examples of countable outcomes include: numbers of persons who gain employment, numbers of people who register to vote, and numbers of people who achieve a graduate education degree. Learning gains are gains in speaking, listening, reading, writing, and numeracy. Executive function skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, and meta-cognition. Affective-related measures include self-esteem, self-confidence, and interpersonal communication.

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