Higher education institutions (HEIs) themselves have the primary responsibility for the quality of education they organise. This is stipulated in the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act. HEIs are responsible for evaluating their education, research and artistic activities.
The acts also state that HEIs must regularly participate in external evaluations. These are mainly carried out by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC). Results of the evaluations must be published.
External evaluation in higher education has an advisory orientation. It aims at involving staff, students and stakeholders of the HEI in recognising strengths, good practices and development areas. The goal is also to support HEIs in achieving their own objectives and this way support the continuous development of higher education.
FINEEC has been the responsible body for external quality assurance in higher education since 2015. It operates within the branch of government of the Ministry of Education and Culture, as a separate unit within the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI).
Until 2014 external evaluations were carried by the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC). FINEEC was formed by combining the evaluation activities of FINHEEC and those of the Finnish Education Evaluation Council and the Finnish National Board of Education.
The tasks of FINEEC include:
• evaluating education, teaching, education providers, and the activities of higher education institutions;
• developing the evaluation of education;
• evaluating learning outcomes in basic education, upper secondary education and training and basic education in arts,
• supporting education providers and higher education institutions in matters related to evaluation and quality management;
• undertaking evaluations of learning outcomes in basic education, upper secondary education and training, and basic education in the arts.
FINEEC has a director that is appointed by the Government. The director leads the organisation and is responsible for its effectiveness. The Government also appoints an Evaluation Council for FINEEC. The Council draws up a proposal for the National Plan for Education Evaluations, which is approved by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Evaluations are carried out according to this plan.
The Ministry of Education and Culture appoints the Higher Education Evaluation Committee that operates in connection with FINEEC. The Committee decides on project plans for the evaluations of HEIs, the composition of planning and review teams, and the final results of the audits.
FINEEC is a member of the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) and a full member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
There are no national directives regarding the methods of internal evaluation. The results of external evaluations may be used as guidelines for internal evaluation.
The three main types of higher education external evaluations carried out by FINEEC are:
• audits of the quality assurance systems of HEIs;
• thematic and system evaluations;
• engineering programme accreditations.
Audits of the quality assurance systems of HEIs
FINEEC has renewed its audit model for the third round of audits of HEIs (2018-2024). It is piloted during 2018 and 2019.
The new model brings along:
• a more student-centred approach;
• more emphasis on the societal impact of HEIs;
• benchlearning from other organisations;
• a digital platform;
• Quality Label for Excellence.
The audit model fulfills the standards set in the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in European Higher Education Area (ESG) (PDF). The audit process, targets and criteria are described in the Audit manual for higher education institutions 2018–2014.
The purpose of the audit model 2018–2024 is:
• to evaluate whether the quality work in the HEI meets the European quality assurance standards;
• to assess whether the quality system produces relevant information for the continuous development of operations and whether it results in effective development activities;
• to encourage internationalisation, experimenting and a creative atmosphere at HEIs;
• to accumulate open and transparent information on quality work at Finnish HEIs.
HEIs can choose a national or an international team to implement the audit. International audit teams always include at least one Finnish member with expertise on the Finnish higher education system.
The Higher Education Evaluation Committee appoints audit teams and their chairs. Usually the teams have 4 members, including:
• 2 representatives of the higher education sector;
• 1 student representative;
• 1 working life representative outside of HEIs.
In addition, a project manager from FINEEC will participate in the team’s work as an expert of audits.
The audit team as a whole must have, for example, knowledge in quality systems and the higher education system, insight into societal impact, experience in quality work or evaluation, and experience in development and expertise in the field of teaching and learning. In addition, at least one team member must also have expertise in the area of evaluation selected by the HEI (area of evaluation IV). The chair of the audit team must have experience in evaluating the operations of HEIs and possess extensive and in-depth knowledge of the higher education system.
Audit targets, procedure and evaluation criteria
The areas of evaluation are:
• I HEI creates competence;
• II HEI promotes impact and renewal;
• III HEI enhances quality and well-being;
• IV Learning HEI (HEIs themselves choose the topic of this area).
The areas are described in more detail in the Audit manual for higher education institutions 2018–2024.
The areas of evaluation I-III are evaluated using the scale excellent – good – insufficient. The HEI will pass the audit if all of the evaluation areas I-III reach at least the level good. The level of the learning area IV is not defined and doesn’t have relevance when deciding whether the HEI shall pass the audit.
To get a Quality Label for Excellence, the HEI must proof exceptional successfully development activities in the particular area of evaluation.
HEIs carry out their self-evaluation via a digital platform. This functions as a template for the assessment of the audit team. After evaluating the areas I-V, the audit team makes a proposal to the Higher Education Evaluation Committee about whether the HEI should pass the audit or whether a re-audit is required. The final decision on passing the audit is made by the Evaluation Committee. It determines the need for a re-audit and the areas that need to be improved. The evaluation areas of the re-audit must be developed at least to the level good.
After passing the audit, the HEI will receive an audit certificate and an electronic quality label. The HEI will be entered into the Audit register for higher education institutions.
Effectiveness and quality of evaluation
FINEEC arranges regular follow-up seminars on the development of quality systems. The aim of the event is to provide feedback on post-audit development work to HEIs, and to offer the entire higher education sector an opportunity to share experiences and good practices regarding quality work.
The task of the Higher Education Evaluation Committee is to ensure the fairness and equality of the audit decisions. In its decision-making, the Committee follows the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act regarding conflicts of interest of its members.
Thematic and system evaluations
Thematic evaluations concentrate on a certain topic. In system evaluations the target is the education system as a whole or a part of it. Also the education policy or development of the education system can be evaluated. Thematic and system evaluations can focus on only higher education or on several levels of the education system at the same time.
A team of outside experts draws up a project plan for the evaluation. A separately appointed evaluation team implements the evaluation, and an evaluation expert working at FINEEC coordinates it. HEIs participate in the evaluations and FINEEC collects feedback from participating parties. After the evaluation FINEEC publishes a report on the results.
Engineering programme accreditations
The aim of engineering programme accreditations is to support the development of quality in engineering degree programmes. They also aim at increasing international recognition and comparability of Finnish engineering degrees. Accreditations are voluntary and a fee is charged from a HEI that wishes to be accredited.
The responsible body for deciding the result of and developing the accreditation process is the FINEEC Committee for Engineering Education. It acts under and is nominated by the FINEEC Higher Education Evaluation Committee. Currently FINEEC has the right to grant the label to bachelor’s degree programmes and aims to attain the right to grant labels to master’s programmes.
The method is based on the European Accredited Engineer (EUR-ACE) Framework Standards and Guidelines (PDF), which are drawn up by the European Network for Accreditation of Engineering Education (ENAEE). The accreditation leads to the international EUR-ACE Label and is valid for six years. The criteria for accreditation are presented in Standards and Procedures for Engineering Programme Accreditation.
After the evaluation, the programme is either:
• not accredited;
• accredited without reservation; or
• conditionally accredited, and the accreditation is valid only if the conditions are met within a specified amount of time.