Main policy objectives
Higher education is integrated by:
- university education;
- some programmes in non-university education:
- advanced vocational training;
- most of the programmes in artistic education (in particular, advanced plastic arts and design professional studies and advanced arts studies) and advanced sports education. These are all part of the specialised education programmes.
Advanced vocational training
The evaluation of the quality of the vocational training system is carried out according to the indicators set out in the European Quality Assurance Framework for Vocational Training (EQAVET).
All the public administrations with competence in this area ensure the quality of all the actions and services within the vocational training system, especially vocational guidance, the training provided in all the learning environments and in all modalities, and the accreditation of professional competences. To this end, the High Inspectorate of Education and the Educational Inspection are responsible for the inspection, supervision and evaluation of this system.
The General State Administration (GSA) establishes and coordinates an evaluation system for the vocational training system to ensure its continuous improvement and innovation, in collaboration with the Administrations with competences in this area and the most representative business and trade union organisations.
The purposes of the evaluation of the vocational training system are:
- The identification, description and analysis of the relevant elements for the quality of the provision and the implementation of vocational training programmes and actions, the accreditation of competences and vocational guidance.
- The presentation of evidence allowing for informed decisions to be taken in order to improve the functioning of the system and its results.
In turn, the evaluation system for the vocational training system has the following characteristics:
- The implementation of an internal and external assessment process on a continuous basis as part of a cycle of continuous.
- The compilation of information in accordance with a system of quality.
- The use of various sources of verification to ensure the three-way validation of data.
- The principles of all public evaluation: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, social impact and sustainability.
In addition, the GSA, in collaboration with the Autonomous Communities, must draw up and submit to the General Council for Vocational Training and theNational School Council, within its sphere of competence, and publish a biennial report on the state of the vocational training system, which must include:
- The information requested from and provided by the Autonomous Communities about results in their respective territories.
- The results obtained by random verifications and evaluations assigned to independent bodies.
The competent administrations and all vocational training institutions are required to transfer the necessary data for the compilation of the Report on the state of the system. The content of the report is to be agreed upon within the framework of the territorial cooperation bodies and the General Council for Vocational Training.
Every four years, the Report on the state of the vocational training system must include a study on the provision of training cycles and their adequacy to student demand, the employability rate of vocational training students and the present and future human capital needs of the public and private sectors.
Advanced artistic education
The education authorities are responsible for promoting systems and procedures for periodic internal and external evaluation of the quality of these courses. The basic reference criteria must be those defined and regulated in the context of the European Higher Education Area (EEES). To this end, the assessment bodies determined by the education authorities, within the scope of their competences, design and implement the corresponding internal and external assessment plans in collaboration with the higher education institutions.
The quality assessment of these courses aims to improve the teaching, research and management activities at the institutions, as well as to promote the excellence and mobility of both the students and the teaching staff.
Quality assurance has specific features due to the autonomy granted to Spanish universities and the fact that education authorities, both regional and national, are held accountable.
In this regard, various initiatives and programmes have been implemented in order to improve evaluation and the quality of the university system.
Quality promotion and assurance of universities
Organic Law 6/2001 on Universities (LOU) establishes that quality promotion and assurance of Spanish universities, both at the national and international levels, is an essential aim of university policy. This evaluation has the following objectives:
- measure the performance of public university education and accountability towards society;
- the transparency, comparison, cooperation and competitiveness of universities at the national and international levels;
- improve teaching and research practice, as well as university management;
- inform public authorities for decision-making within the scope of their powers;
- inform society in order to promote excellence and student and teacher mobility.
These objectives must be achieved by establishing certain common criteria for quality assurance, which facilitate the evaluation, certification and accreditation of:
- studies leading to the award of official certificates which are valid throughout the country;
- studies leading to the award of diplomas and certificates designed by universities and other higher education institutions;
- activities, programmes, services and management of higher education institutions;
- teaching, research and management activities of university teachers;
- other activities and programmes that may be carried out as a consequence of teaching and research quality promotion by public authorities.
At the same time, as established in Article 25 of Royal Decree 822/2021, in order to ensure the quality of university studies as an educational service for the Spanish society as a whole, official university degrees must be subject to external assessment procedures in accordance with the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance of Higher Education ESG). Universities must assume joint responsibility for quality assurance through the development of their internal quality assurance systems and the promotion of a culture of quality among the university community.
The quality assurance procedures that involve all the curricula of official university degrees are verification, monitoring and modification procedures, as well as the renewal of degree accreditation. To this end, the quality agencies jointly establish the quality assessment protocols that guide them.
In turn, the Ministry of Universities runs an Integrated University Information System (SIIU) to cover the information needs of the Spanish university system as a whole and of the administrations, and will provide the competent external assessment bodies with the necessary information to carry out quality assurance procedures. Likewise, the SIIU, based on the statistics and information collected, carries out observation, analysis and forecasting activities in collaboration with the universities and the quality agencies.
General Assembly for University Policy
The General Assembly for University Policy is the body for consultation, coordination and cooperation on general university policy.
Without detriment to the powers conferred on the university coordination bodies of the Autonomous Communities, it has the following functions:
- establish and assess the general guidelines of university policy, its organisation in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and its interrelationship with scientific and technological research policies;
- drawing up, informing, consulting and providing advise on the general organisation and long-term programme of university education, which covers the necessary human, material and financial resources for the public university services;
- approve coordination criteria regarding evaluation, certification and accreditation activities, aimed at promoting and guaranteeing the quality and efficiency of universities;
- suggest and assess measures in order to promote collaboration between universities and companies;
- coordinating the drawing up and monitoring of reports on the application of the principle of gender equality at university.
Every two years, the Assembly draws up a report on the situation of the university system and its funding, putting forward proposals to improve its quality and efficiency with the aim of ensuring financial sufficiency and the right to education in conditions of equality.
The Assembly is made up of the Minister of Universities, who chairs it, the people in charge of university education in the Governing Councils of the Autonomous Communities, and by five members designed by the President of the Assembly.
Council of Universities
The Council of Universities is the body for academic coordination, cooperation, consultation and proposal in terms of university education. It has the following functions, which it carries out with full functional autonomy:
- acting as a channel for collaboration, cooperation and coordination in academic matters;
- informing on the legal and regulatory provisions that affect the university system as a whole;
- providing advise in terms of university education as required by the Ministry of Universities, the General Assembly for University Policy or, where appropriate, the Autonomous Communities;
- make proposals to the Government regarding the university system and the General Assembly for University Policy;
- verifying the alignment of the curricula with the guidelines and requirements established by the Government for official degrees;
- carrying out any other tasks entrusted to it by law and its implementing provisions.
The Council of Universities is chaired by the Minister of Universities and is integrated by the Rectors of the universities and five members appointed by its chair.
National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA)
The most important functions of the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) are:
- promote the improvement of the teaching, research and management activities of universities;
- contribute to the measurement of higher education performance according to objective procedures and transparent processes;
- provide public authorities with suitable information for decision-making;
- inform society about the achievement of goals in university activities.
The set of functions that correspond to ANECA can be found in Article 6 of Royal Decree 1112/2015.
The evaluation, accreditation and certification processes carried out by ANECA comply with internationally recognised protocols, fulfilling the European criteria and guidelines (ESG) for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area (EEES).
ANECA regularly undergoes external evaluations according to the ESG and is an active member of the main international networks. In this regard, in 2003 it became a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), in 2008, it joined the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) and, in 2010, it became the first European agency adhering to the Guidelines of Good Practice of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), in which it is recognised as a full member. In 2021, it was also recognised by the Ibero-American System for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (SIACES) with the Certificate of Validation of Good Practices.
ANECA defines its main operational lines in its Strategic Plan. It is a reference document for the establishment of medium-term objectives that serve as a framework for the annual operational plans and the development of the Agency’s projects in the future. Two of them are currently in force: the one for the period 2019-2023 and the one for 2022-2025.
The Estrategic Plan 2019-2023, published by ANECA, is a reference document for the establishment of medium-term objectives that will serve as a framework for the annual operational plans and the development of the Agency’s projects in the future.
The Strategic Plan 2019-2023, outlines the following strategic objectives and their corresponding specific objectives:
- Contributing to the promotion of the quality of the Spanish university system within the framework of the criteria and guidelines for quality assurance in the EHEA:
- effectively and accurately implementing the different programmes for evaluating the quality of university education;
- contributing in an adequate manner to the design of a teaching and research career model for teaching staff through the programmes that accredit the different figures of university lecturers;
- carrying out the Agency's institutional evaluation programmes with the aim of helping to improve the quality of the Spanish university system;
- developing other quality assurance programmes that contribute to the quality improvement of the university system;
- ensuring an adequate selection of experts and evaluators in the various commissions for the assessment of courses, institutions and teachers.
- Optimising the visualisation of the Agency's actions at a national and international level through its participation in different bodies of the university system and in collaboration with interest groups:
- involving the representative bodies of the participating actors in higher education in the evaluation and accreditation programmes and in the different Agency actions;
- extending the Agency's international presence by offering services linked to quality assurance and associated to their action lines at a national level;
- maintaining ANECA's presence in international bodies in order to strengthen the internationalisation of Spanish higher education;
- carrying out actions that involve and reinforce the role of the different stakeholders within the Agency.
- Spreading more widely the Agency's mission and the role it plays for the university system within society:
- contributing to the knowledge regarding the quality of the Spanish university system through the drawing and dissemination of reports and updated information about the different processes it carries out;
- increasing external communication, reaching the media and society with objective information in order to generate trust;
- improving internal communication that provides useful and cross-cutting information to the different divisions;
- effectively addressing user needs and providing them with adequate resources and complaint processes.
- Efficiently managing resources in order to contribute to the improvement of ANECA:
- optimising the Agency's quality and continuous improvement management systems;
- strengthening ANECA's human team by promoting its development, motivation and efficiency;
- managing economic resources effectively and efficiently;
- developing the IT tools for the management of ANECA's different programmes towards integrated and secure systems which simplify their processing and improve the relationship with stakeholders;
- improving infrastructures and the delivery of general services to facilitate ANECA's activities.
Meanwhile, the Strategic Plan 2022-2025 includes these three strategic objectives and their corresponding action lines:
- Support and guidance. Supporting and accompanying the promotion and modernisation process of the quality of the Spanish higher education system and research, within the framework of the criteria and guidelines for quality assurance in the EHEA, especially promoting equity:
- efficiently and accurately developing the different programmes for evaluating the quality of university education;
- carrying out the institutional evaluation programmes of schools and institutions with the aim of helping to improve the quality of the Spanish higher education system. The Agency provides higher education institutions with quality improvement programmes that include the institution itself;
- evaluation of training, mobility and promotion of talent;
- contributing to the design and assessment of a teaching and research career model for teaching staff through the programmes that accredit the different figures of university lecturers;
- carrying out programmes for the evaluation of applications for six-year periods.
- Public image and transparency. Contributing through its activities and assessment programmes to strengthening the national and international image of the Spanish higher education and research system, as well as that of the cross-border initiatives of the entities within it, promoting the communication of its actions to the different people and institutions with which it interacts and strengthening its alliances with those entities that contribute to the improvement of the quality of the Spanish higher education and research system;
- enhancing the Agency's national positioning by actively participating in organisations and institutions that collaborate with the strengthening of the higher education and research system in Spain and by collaborating with the bodies representing students and other social groups related to its different action lines;
- enhancing the Agency's international positioning, through its involvement in quality assurance in different regions of the world and its active collaboration with international organisations, promoting academic diplomacy projects and actions;
- promoting a social projection communication policy by developing actions aimed at achieving visibility and impact for the Agency's activities;
- promoting equity in its actions and its extension to the higher education and research system;
- implementing orientation and certification processes to support institutional strategies of excellence, helping to generate society's confidence in the higher education and research system;
- achieving continuous improvement in the processes of meeting the Agency's objectives on the basis of data analysis and forecasting;
- creating the ANECA Classroom in the Agency's facilities to offer advice and training to the actors involved, and the ANECA Office in the higher education and scientific research institutions to offer information on ANECA programmes to the universities' technical staff who are part of the office, so that they can resolve any doubts that their teaching staff may have about the ANECA programmes.
- Autonomy and efficiency. Providing the Agency with the financial, human and IT resources necessary to achieve its objectives and managing them as effectively and efficiently as possible:
- strengthening ANECA's human team by promoting its development, motivation and efficiency;
- providing the Agency with the necessary financial resources;
- digital transformation of the Agency;
- providing the Agency with the physical infrastructures necessary for the development of its activities and establishing the appropriate mechanisms for the safeguarding of its assets, optimising its internal control management systems;
- improving the agility and control of the Agency's contracting and legal procedures, complaint and suggestion processes, as well as, in general, of all actions with the different groups that interact with the Agency.
The annual operational plans are annual documents, approved by ANECA's management team and submitted to the Governing Board in the last quarter of the previous year. They include the planning of each of the activities to be carried out by the Agency, according to the priorities set out in the strategic objectives, as well as a list of defined and quantifiable indicators to measure the fulfilment of each of the objectives established in the Strategic Plan.
The Annual Operating Plan 2022 (POA 2022) is based on the strategic objectives set out in the Strategic Plan 2019-2023 and describes the activities to be carried out in 2022. The management indicators were subsequently published as an Agenda.
In turn, the annual reports describe the activities that have been promoted during each year, according to the priorities set out in the Agency's strategic objectives. They are therefore annual documents approved by the management team. They also include the results of the indicators defined to measure compliance with each of the strategic objectives defined in the corresponding Annual Operating Plan. The latest annual report available corresponds to the year 2021.
The ANECA’s Observatory for the quality of the Spanish university system publishes on an annual basis and in collaboration with the regional university quality agencies its Report on the status of external quality assessment in Spanish universities. This report provides a situational analysis of the impact of the external evaluation of the quality of the Spanish university system and its evolution, focusing on the reflection on several important issues to promote the improvement of the processes and results linked to such actions. The latest available edition corresponds to the year 2019.
In addition, the Observatory also presents a new line of work in which it prepares specific reports on the improvement of the quality of the institutions' actions at the service of university education objectives. The first stage of the project seeks to address, due to their relevance, two fundamental objectives of higher education: employability and job placement, on one hand, and inclusion, on the other.
Agencies of the Autonomous Communities responsible for the evaluation of university education
The evaluation agencies contribute, together with ANECA, to the improvement of quality through the coordination and development of the evaluation, certification and accreditation of university studies, teachers and institutions.
Social Council in each university
The Social Council, by which society participates in university life, supervises universities’ financial activities and the performance of their services. It approves an annual action plan with the aim of promoting relations between universities and their cultural, professional, economic and social environment at the service of the financing and quality of university activity. It also is the one to approve the budget and the multi-annual programming of the university, at the proposal of the Governing Council.
In order to develop its functions, it is informed and advised by the ANECA and the evaluation bodies of the Autonomous Communities.
Its composition is regulated in Article 14.3 of the LOU.
Services Inspection in each university
Article 16.1 of Royal Decree 898/1985 establishes the obligation to set up an Inspection Service in each university to supervise the functioning of the services and to collaborate in the inspection tasks for all disciplinary proceedings and the general monitoring and control of academic discipline.
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
- National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA): it coordinates and promotes the evaluation of the different aspects of the university system: studies, institutions and teachers.
- The education authorities through their evaluation agencies in their territorial areas: they ensure compliance with basic quality standards in the design and implementation of studies, as well as among those taking part in a hiring process or a process to enter the civil service.
- The universities, on the other hand, carry out the following actions:
- They submit an annual report of their teaching and research activities to the Autonomous Community they depend on as well as to the General Assembly for University Policy.
- They conduct an internal assessment of their activities, the work done by their teachers and the results of their students within their institutional improvement plans.
- Their Services Inspection verifies compliance with institutional responsibilities, as well as the organisation of teaching and non-teaching staff, and is in charge of opening information and disciplinary proceedings and processing applications for reports and procedures to monitor and evaluate the performance of the teaching staff.
ANECA programmes for the evaluation of studies
ANECA develops its activity, in other words, evaluation, certification and accreditation, through different programs:
- VERIFICA: it evaluates the proposals of study plans designed in line with the EHEA.
- MONITOR: it provides universities with an external appraisal on the implementation of their official degrees with a view to using this appraisal as an additional element to improve the training offered.
- ACREDITA: it evaluates official university degrees for the renewal of their accreditation. This evaluation is carried out on a cyclical basis and has a twofold objective: to check whether the degree is being carried out in accordance with the objectives established in its initial project (by which it obtained the status of official degree) and to check whether its results are adequate and contribute to the training of the students and therefore to the achievement of the planned objectives.
- QUALITY RECOGNITIONS: In addition to the accreditation as official degrees, university studies can opt for specific quality recognition in certain areas, articulated through ANECA quality certificates.
ANECA programmes for the evaluation of institutions
Participation in both programmes is voluntary.
- DOCENTIA: it guarantees the training and competence of university teaching staff, through an assessment of their teaching activity.
- AUDIT:: it certifies the implementation of the institutions' internal quality assurance systems (IQAS) in the centres with respect to their teaching, research, transfer and sustainability dimensions.
- INSTITUTIONAL ACCREDITATION: it is an alternative to the accreditation model for official university degrees and master's degrees.
ANECA programmes for the evaluation of teachers
Participation in both programmes is compulsory for teachers who participate in processes for the recruitment or access to the university teaching staff.
- PEP: it evaluates the teaching and research experience and the academic qualifications of prospective teachers in order to have access to the positions of associate teacher, assistant teacher –both requiring a PhD- and private university teacher established by the Act Modifying the Act on Universities (2007).
- ACADEMIA: through Commissions for Accreditation, it carries out the process of curricular evaluation for accreditation in order to have access to the positions of university senior lecturer and university senior professor. It is regulated by Royal Decree 1312/2007, as amended by Royal Decree 415/2015 and Order UNI/1191/2020.
- CNEAI: The National Committee for the Evaluation of Research Activity evaluates the research activity of university teachers and the scientific staff of the Spanish Higher Scientific Research Council (CSIC), so that they receive a productivity allowance.
Other evaluation activities
- Evaluations by agreement. Through these agreements, the Agency carries out the scientific-technical evaluation of proposals for funding applications from institutions and centres belonging to the higher education and research system that request it, as well as the research, teaching and transfer performance of the personnel assigned to the different institutions and centres belonging to the higher education and research system.
- Calls for applications for scholarships and grants from the Ministry of Universities. The Ministry of Universities entrusts to ANECA the evaluation of the applications submitted in different annual calls for applications for university teaching staff training and mobility grants. Within the selection process for each call for applications, ANECA is responsible for the evaluation phase of the applications.
- Assessment of official non-university higher education degrees. One of ANECA’s main goals is to contribute to the promotion of the quality of the Spanish university system within the framework of the criteria and guidelines for quality assurance in the EHEA. In this sense, it must effectively and rigorously apply the different programmes for evaluating the quality of university education required by current legislation. In this field, it also evaluates official non-university higher education qualifications, such as master's degrees in the arts.
- Quality Recognitions. The National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA), as the public body responsible for promoting and ensuring the quality of the Spanish university system in the international context, rolls out not only “common minimum” accreditation processes but also orientation processes and certification with which to support institutional excellence strategies for each institution, helping to generate the trust of society in the institutions. This category includes the following elements:
- Comprehensive Quality Recognitions (RIC). RIC-6 is a programme for the Comprehensive Quality Recognitions of higher education institutions based on six pillars. Three correspond to the mission of the institutions (research, teaching and transfer of knowledge) and the other three to sustainability (social, environmental and governance).
- ANECA’s Professional Labels (SIC). ANECA's International Quality Seals Programme offers the possibility of obtaining an International Quality Seal (SIC) with recognised prestige in different professional fields. The SIC programme has been active since October 2017, the year in which the ACREDITA PLUS programme, created in 2013, was reformulated.
- Other labels. ANECA supports and accompanies the promotion and modernisation of the quality of the higher education and research system, providing the university system with guidance, evaluation, certification and accreditation, through the creation of labels in collaboration with other entities. One example is the Quality Label for Academic Publishing. Its objective is to recognize the best practices within Spanish university publishing and become a distinctive sign that both the agencies evaluating the research activity and the academic and research community will easily identify. It also intends to be a way to promote and stimulate quality in academic publishing.