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Glossary of terms used on this site

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Term Definition

Yardsticks/checkpoints/benchmarks by which the attainment of certain objectives and/or standards can be examined. Criteria describe in a certain degree of detail the characteristics of the requirements and conditions to be met [in order to meet a standard] and therefore provide the (quantitative and/or qualitative) basis on which an evaluative conclusion is drawn.


As it relates to institutional quality culture, the culture of evidence is that habit acquired in a higher education institution and based on clear ethical values, principles, and rules, which consists of the self-evaluation of its learning outcomes, engaging the teaching staff and the academic administration in a thoughtful, regular collection, selection, and use of relevant institutional performance indicators, in order to inform and prove, whenever (and to whomever) necessary, that it is doing well in specific areas (e.g., institutional planning, decision- making, quality, etc.) and for the purpose of improving its learning and teaching outcomes. The “culture of evidence” (as opposed to “a culture of professional tradition and trust”) is the empirical basis for the quality culture of a higher education institution. As formulated within the new WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) standards, the culture of evidence requested from a higher education institution implies that the institution is stimulated to be able to provide empirical data that its programmes are consistent with its own mission and not with some pre-given “check list” of requests.


Level descriptors are statements that provide a broad indication of learning appropriate to attainment at a particular level, describing the characteristics and context of learning expected at that level. They are designed to support the reviewing of specified learning outcomes and assessment criteria in order to develop particular modules and units and to assign credits at the appropriate level. The descriptors guide the learner, teachers and curriculum with respect to the complexity, relative demand and learner autonomy. These general descriptors can be applied to specific subject disciplines and ways of learning. Level descriptors are useful for curriculum design, assignment of credits, validation, guidelines for recognition of learning from experience and of non formal learning and for staff development.


Qualification descriptors are statements that set out the outcomes of principal higher education qualifications at given levels (usually of an awarded degree) and demonstrate the nature of change between levels. At some levels, there may be more than one type of qualification. The first part of a qualification descriptor (of particular interest to those designing, approving, and reviewing academic programmes) is a statement regarding outcomes, i.e., the achievement of a student that he or she should be able demonstrate for the award of the qualification. The second part (of particular interest to employers) is a statement of the wider abilities that the typical student could be expected to have developed. Upon periodical review of the existing qualification descriptors and in light of the development of other points of reference, such as benchmark statements, additional qualification descriptors at each level are elaborated. In view of the creation of the European Higher Education Area, the Joint Quality Initiative (JQI) Group proposed considering the development of descriptors for Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree (BaMa descriptors) that might be shared within Europe and be available for a variety of purposes depending on particular national, regional, or institutional contexts and requirements.


ECTS is an outcome of the European Community project initially established under the ERASMUS Programme (1988-1995). It was developed more broadly between 1995-1999 under the higher education component of the SOCRATES Programme, ERASMUS, and proved to be an effective tool for creating curricular transparency and facilitating academic recognition. The activity of ECTS is twofold: on the one hand, it guarantees academic recognition to students of studies completed abroad and furthermore enables studies abroad; on the other hand, it provides higher education institutions with curricular transparency by offering detailed information regarding the respective curricula and their relevance in terms of an earned degree and by enabling higher education institutions to preserve their autonomy and responsibility for all decisions regarding student achievement. The Bologna Declaration takes ECTS as the common framework for curriculum design and student mobility within the envisaged European Higher Education Area.


Level of requirements and conditions regarding different stages of the educational process and the relationship between those stages, such as inputs, processes, and outputs. Various types of educational standards exist with regard to learning resources, programmes, and results, in general, and student performance (content standards, performance standards, proficiency standards, and opportunity-to-learn standards).


An output of specific review/analyses (e.g., the WASC Educational Effectiveness Review or its Reports on Institutional Effectiveness) that measure (the quality of) the achievement of a specific educational goal or the degree to which a higher education institution can be expected to achieve specific requirements. It is different from efficiency, which is measured by the volume of output or input used. As a primary measure of success of a programme or of a higher education institution, clear indicators, meaningful information, and evidence best reflecting institutional effectiveness with respect to student learning and academic achievement have to be gathered through various procedures (inspection, observation, site visits, etc.). Engaging in the measurement of educational effectiveness creates a value-added process through quality assurance and accreditation review and contributes to building, within the institution, a culture of evidence.


Evaluation of teaching and academic studies in a subject or department and the related degree programmes comprises all those activities which aim at assessing quality and fitness for purpose and of purpose. Strengths and weaknesses of education and training can bi identified by stocktaking, analysis and proposals formulated to ensure the sustainability of quality. Evaluation may be carried out through both internal and external procedures. The main goal in enhancing quality is ensuring that internal and external procedures are used to improve student learning.


The process whereby a specialized agency collects data, information, and evidence about an institution, a particular unit of a given institution, or a core activity of an institution, in order to make a statement about its quality. External evaluation is carried out by a team of external experts, peers, or inspectors, and usually requires three distinct operations:
i. analysis of the self-study report;
ii. a site visit;
iii. the drafting of an evaluation report.


Formal learning is a structured learning (with respect to the learning goals, time and learning support) at some HEI, which results in obtainment of an official document confirming the acquirement of a certain educational degree. 


Operational variables referring to specific empirically measurable characteristics of higher education institutions or programmes on which evidence can be collected that allows for a determination of whether or not standards are being met. Indicators identify performance trends and signal areas in need for action and/or enable comparison of actual performance with established objectives. They are also used to translate theoretical aspects of quality, a process known as operationalization. An indicator must be distinguished from a measure, which is data used to determine the level of performance of an attribute of interest, and from a standard, which is the level of acceptable performance in terms of a specific numeric criterion. 


Informal learning is a result of work based activities or other everyday activities in family life or in pastime. This is not structured learning (learning goals, timeframe and learning support is not defined or provided) and, usually, does not result in issuance of an official document. While such learning may be intended, it, usually, is not.


The term refers to the accreditation of the whole institution, including all its programmes, sites, and methods of delivery, without any implication as to the quality of the study programmes of the institution. 


An evidence-based process carried out through peer review that investigates the procedures and the mechanisms by which an institution ensures its quality assurance and quality enhancement. It specifically addresses the final responsibility for the management of quality and standards that rests with an institution as a whole. 


Statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand, and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning as well as the specific intellectual and practical skills gained and demonstrated by the successful completion of a unit, course, or programme. Learning outcomes, together with assessment criteria, specify the minimum requirements for the award of credit. Accumulation and transfer of credits is greatly facilitated if the learning outcomes have been precisely defined and if they specify achievements liable for credit acquirement. Learning outcomes are distinct from the aims of learning in that they are concerned with the achievements of the learner rather than with the overall intentions of the teacher.

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