Institutional Approval

Quality Enhancement is responsible for the monitoring of quality assurance and enhancement arrangements in partner institutions which have been approved to offer Ulster University award-bearing courses.

Quality Enhancement is responsible for the monitoring of quality assurance and enhancement arrangements in partner institutions which have been approved to offer Ulster University award-bearing courses.  Quality Enhancement manages the processes for Institutional Recognition, those for monitoring through Annual Course Review and the Programme Management System, and supports the work of the Collaborative Partnerships Forum.

The Academic Office is responsible for quality assurance arrangements in respect of initial approval and re-validation of such courses.  The Partnership Handbook details University policies and procedures for the approval, management and monitoring of courses.

Overview

The approval process for a new collaborative partner institution is determined by the type of collaboration proposed.

  • Validated Courses

    For programmes leading to an award of the University, the proposed institution itself must first be formally approved or ‘recognised’.  This process requires the University to satisfy itself that an institution proposing to develop and offer a programme leading to the University's award can meet the conditions of Ordinance XXVIII: Recognition of Institutions.

  • Franchised Courses

    Institutions wishing to offer franchised programmes of the University must also be formally recognised to do so under Ordinance XXVIII.  An institution approved to offer franchised courses may be given the title of Affiliate College of the University. Affiliate Colleges are not permitted to offer validated courses.

  • Joint Courses

    Joint courses may be developed with well-established higher education institutions.  There is no separate institutional approval process as the key issues are the overall standard and coherence of the proposed course and the overall standard of the contributions made by the partners.  The University retains oversight of the whole course and award. These matters are considered through the University’s initial course approval process and its subsequent evaluation and revalidation and through the partner institution’s own approval processes.

  • Outcentres

    Given that the University retains full responsibility for the award, the nature of the approval of partner institutions to be used as outcentres is confined to a review of the legal status of the institution and whether it has the capacity in law to enter into a contract with the University, and consideration of its financial status.  Quality Enhancement carries out this limited due-diligence exercise, in consultation with the Office of the University Secretary and the Finance Department as necessary, and a brief Initial Strategic Assessment is forwarded to the Senior Leadership Team of the University.  This report does not comment on the suitability of the organisation to provide the service or resources required for a specific course, as this is considered through the course approval process.  Ongoing monitoring is undertaken through the University’s internal quality assurance arrangements.

    The accreditation of training or stand-alone continuing professional development modules offered by employers is treated as a sub-set of the outcentre model. The Centre for Flexible and Continuing Education in Access, Digital and Distributed Learning provides advice to faculties to support the development of a business plan and contract.

  • Articulations

    For articulations, there is generally no separate procedure of institutional approval or re-approval provided that the security and standard of the qualifications are satisfactory. Each faculty monitors the effectiveness of arrangements through its formal committee structures.

The detailed arrangements for the approval of new partners for validated and franchised provision are set out in the following paragraphs.

Initial Enquiry

An institution wishing to offer a programme of study in partnership with the University for the first time, whether on a validated or franchised basis, may direct initial informal enquiries to a range of staff within the University.  Members of staff who are approached about the possibility of the University entering into a validated or franchised course arrangement should make no commitment.  They should inform their Head of School and Associate Dean (Education), and form new international partnerships Associate Dean (Global Engagement) who will advise on whether the proposal merits further consideration. The Faculty should then inform the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of the proposal in writing with all relevant details available at that stage, and if applicable the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement).

Initial Strategic Assessment

For new local partners, the Initial Strategic Assessment is carried out using the process for outcentres.  For new international partners, it is conducted in two parts which are taken forward in parallel.  Part A is concerned with legal and financial due diligence and issues related to reputation and Part B focuses on standards and quality and the capacity of the proposed partner to offer the courses identified.

The Part A due diligence report is received by SLT and the Part B (Academic) report is received by ASQEC.

SLT and ASQEC, on the basis of the information provided in the due diligence reports, make a decision as to whether or not it would be prudent to proceed with the partnership, or they may request further information before such a decision is made.

Following approval to proceed and pending Institutional Recognition, Faculty(ies) interested in establishing specific course links with the potential partner are invited to develop, in consultation with their Faculty Accountant, a business case for the course(s) concerned and this is included as part of the submission of an outline course proposal (CA2/CA2a) to APAG.

Documentation for Institutional Recognition

The processes for institutional recognition set out in the following paragraphs.

Validated Provision

Following the decision to proceed to consideration of Institutional Recognition from partners seeking to offer validated course leading to award of the University, the partner prepares an Institutional Document containing the information set out at Appendix 11 of the Partnership Handbook.  The University may request additional material. The Institutional Document and any additional documentation should be submitted to Quality Enhancement at least four months in advance of the date of the recognition visit.

The documentation should be in English and take the form of a narrative, accompanied by relevant policy and procedural statements.   While the information may appear to reproduce some of the information collected in the initial strategic assessment, it is important for the institutions to provide its own comprehensive and up-to-date profile.

The documentation includes a statement on the institution’s strategy for the provision of learning resources, along with a summary of the main statistical indicators (annual expenditure on library materials, size of library stock, opening hours, and service points, number of workstations available to students and description of the institution’s IT strategy; also staff numbers and qualifications).

Regarding student welfare, the University will expect to be provided with information on the institution’s overall strategy for student support and guidance, including induction arrangements, academic and remedial support, pastoral support and careers guidance.  The University and Northern Ireland institutions must meet the expectations of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 (SENDO).  Partner institutions are expected to anticipate needs and provide support to relevant students in accordance with the Order.

The institution is expected to have an appropriate counselling and guidance service, which has a formal place within the organisational structure.  The service should have a clearly defined function which is separate from the teaching role.  The University expects evidence of a professional standard of service, through such indicators as the qualifications held by staff, experience, arrangements for in-service training and development and adherence to a nationally or internationally recognised code of practice.

Quality Enhancement co-ordinates the review of the Institutional Document. Appropriate sections are considered by the central University departments which have the relevant specialist expertise. The aide-memoire is used to assist in this process. Departments may engage in discussions with the proposed partner for the purposes of clarification. Reports are made on standards in these areas and on progress on any issues.  A summary report on feedback, which forms a draft agenda, and any necessary accompanying notes for the formal visit to the institution are prepared.

Recognition Visit and Approval

The University appoints a recognition panel to visit the institution in order to discuss in detail institutional level matters with senior management.  The panel is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and includes two other senior members of staff.

Formal visits to a proposed partner for initial institutional recognition and for course evaluation may be combined in a single event, but the event will have two parts with separate agendas.  In such cases, conditions of institutional approval must be met before any proposed courses are permitted to admit students.

Quality Enhancement makes arrangements for the panel meeting in consultation with the institution, circulates the relevant paperwork to the panel and institution in advance of the meeting, provides administrative support for the visit and services the meeting.

The panel receives an agenda, the Institutional Document and aide-memoire, a summary of the Initial Strategic Assessment, and summary report on feedback and issues arising from the internal consultation process.  A typical agenda and programme for the visit is given at Appendix 13 of the Partnership Handbook.  This agenda is forwarded to the institution one month in advance of the visit.  The institution makes the necessary domestic arrangements.

While the main focus of the visit is on the issues identified from the internal review of the Institutional Document, it is also an opportunity to include discussions of strategic interest such as the future plans for the development of the partnership, University priorities and to advise the institution formally of the scale of fees that will apply in the following academic year.

After the visit, a report is prepared and circulated to the panel members for comment and subsequently signed off by the chair of the panel.  The report identifies any conditions or recommendations associated with the approval, or clearly identifies the reason(s) why approval is not being recommended, and is submitted to the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee (ASQEC) for consideration.  If accepted, ASQEC forwards a recommendation to the Senate for final approval.

Franchised Provision

For institutions wishing to offer franchised programmes of the University the institutional approval process consists of two stages:

Stage 1

Stage 1 reviews the arrangements which the Faculty has put in place to manage effectively and monitor the provision in order to secure the quality of the Ulster student experience and the standards of the University award.  Consideration is also given to the adequacy of Faculty and University systems to support the effective administration of the provision at the proposed partner.  The Approval Panel meets with senior Faculty and School Management, course and module staff and members of Faculty administration and Student Administration. The Approval Panel identifies any conditions which the Faculty is required to meet in advance of confirmation of institutional approval and the timescale for the completion and verification of such actions.  The outcomes of the Faculty meeting informs the agenda for the later visit to the proposed partner.

Stage 2

Stage 2 involves a visit by a University Approval Panel to the partner institution. The Panel meets with the senior management of the organisation and with other staff groups as determined following the conclusion of Stage 1.  The focus is on the institution’s commitment and capacity to provide and maintain an appropriate learning environment for Ulster students.  The Approval Panel decides any conditions which have to be met by the partner before institutional approval can be finalised and the timescale for the completion and verification of such actions.

An agenda detailing the Approval Panel questions is provided in advance of each stage.

A report summarising the outcomes of both approval stages is provided to ASQEC which makes a recommendation to Senate regarding approval of the partner and whether Affiliate College status should be granted.

Once the recommendation is approved by Senate and any conditions in the report have been addressed to the satisfaction of the chair of the recognition panel, Senate reports to Council the approval of the institution.  All Faculties are advised of the new recognised institution and are able to develop course proposals for evaluation.

Legal Agreement

On conclusion of the recognition process, a Memorandum of Recognition is signed by the Vice-Chancellor and the head of the partner institution.  It is subject to renewal every five years.  For an Affiliate College an additional Contract for Services Agreement is drawn up setting out the respective responsibilities of each partner and the services to be provided by each.  The Contract will differ between partners and will provide the basis for the financial agreement with the Affiliate College.