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Quality assurance in higher education


11.Quality assurance

11.2Quality assurance in higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023

The quality assurance system in higher education has been introduced with law 240/2010, which delegated the Government to regulate the quality assurance system in compliance with the main European directives.

With D.Lgs. 19/2012, the Government regulated the procedures for the accreditation and evaluation of university courses and settings through:

  • the introduction of the initial and recurrent evaluation of university settings and courses;
  • the introduction of an evaluation system and a system for assuring quality, efficiency and effectiveness of didactic and research;
  • empowerment of the system of self-evaluation of the quality and efficiency of teaching and research activities.

The quality assurance system has ad advisory orientation and aims at improving the quality of higher education.

A quality assurance system for the Higher education for fine arts, music and dance system (Alta formazione artistica, musicale e coreutica – AFAM) is, at present, under development.

Responsible bodies

The Italian national agency for the evaluation of universities and research institutes (Agenzia nazionale di valutazione del sistema universitario e della ricerca - Anvur) is the national agency for quality assurance as foreseen by the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), in compliance with the evaluation practices at international level and according to principles of autonomy, equity, transparency, publicity of documents.

Anvur is a public body under the surveillance of the Ministry of university and research (ministero dell’università e della ricerca - Mur). It is committed with the definition of the criteria for the accreditation and evaluation. In 2012, in the document ‘Self-evaluation, recurrent evaluation and accreditation of the Italian university system’ (Autovalutazione, valutazione e accreditamento - AVA), Anvur defined the model of Quality assurance of universities and research institutes. The system is, at present, regulated by the DM 6/2019 that replaced all the previous Ministerial decrees issued in 2013 and 2016.

The model defines the following aspects of quality assurance:

  • requirements for the accreditation of universities and courses;
  • quality assurance requirement;
  • reference number of students for accreditation;
  • indicators for the recurrent evaluation of research third mission and teaching activities at universities. 

Within the Quality assurance system, the Anvur has the following tasks:

  • supervision of the national evaluation system of the quality of universities and research institutes; 
  • external evaluation of the quality of the activities in public and publically subsidised private universities and research bodies; 
  • guidance for internal evaluation activities carried out by the evaluation centres of the universities and of research bodies; 
  • evaluation of the efficiency and efficacy of public financing and programmes for the promotion of innovation and research activities.

The results of the evaluation activity carried out by the Anvur are public and are the basis for the allocation od State funds to universities and research institutes. Every two years, the Anvur also draws up a report on the state of the university and research system.

Approaches and methods for quality assurance

The Self-evaluation, recurrent evaluation and accreditation of the university system (Autovalutazione, valutazione e accreditamento - AVA) is based on the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) that are drawn up by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).

The Quality assurance system of Anvur has an advisory orientation and aims at the improvement of the quality of universities and research institutes and it is based on the following elements:

  • a system of initial and recurrent accreditation of courses and settings by Anvur;
  • a system of quality assurance (AQ) of the teaching and research activities of universities, under the responsibilities of quality protection teams;
  • the internal evaluation by joint committees and by the evaluation teams of universities;
  • the external evaluation by Anvur.

The internal Quality assurance system is the requirement for the accreditation of courses and settings. The accreditation is an external evaluation procedure carried out by Anvur and is divided into an initial and a recurrent accreditation.

Initial accreditation is awarded to courses and settings according to minimum quantitative and qualitative requirements. Qualitative requirements are verified by Anvur through the Committee of experts of evaluation (CEV). Then, Anvur gives its opinion on the accreditation of the new course or setting and submits it to the Ministry of university and research that, finally, authorises the accreditation.

After having obtained the initial accreditation, courses and settings undergo recurrent accreditation that implies a wider assessment activity that includes:

  • checking the possession of the requirements of initial accreditation;
  • checking the possession of requirements for quality assurance;
  • a real improvement of teaching and research activities through indicators and assessment criteria.

Recurrent accreditation is based on visits at universities from the Committees of expert of evaluation. Committees verify the quality assurance system of universities and a sample of courses. In particular, the committee verifies the following requirements:

  • the adoption of policies on teaching quality at university level;
  • the capacity of monitoring the application of quality policies at course level;
  • actions aimed at the continuing improvement of the quality of courses;
  • the decisional and monitoring power of the university aimed at assuring the quality of courses;
  • a real quality assurance system applied in the assessed sample of courses;
  • quality assurance policies in the research area;
  • sustainable teaching based on the number of professors available.

At the end of the visit, the Committee releases a report, published by the Anvur, on the correspondence to the requirements for the recurrent accreditation and evaluation.

The recurrent evaluation is based on criteria and indicators that measure the efficiency and the financial sustainability of activities and the results of single universities in terms of improvement of academic activities.

For carrying out its activities of evaluation of the quality assurance processes, Anvur selects the experts of the Committees from a register of evaluation experts.