ACQA is an acronym of Academic Competences and Quality Assurance, an initiative that aims to make the notion of “academic education” explicit and measurable on the level of complete study programmes.
An important impetus for the ACQA-initiative were the so-called Dublin Descriptors, a system of learning outcomes for higher education that was established in 2002 under the auspices of the European Commission. This system is insufficiently expressive to articulate the nature of programmes in engineering education: the competence designing, essential for universities of technology, does not appear in the framework. In addition, the Dublin Descriptors are phrased in such a general way that it is hard to make them operational in the quality assurance of study programmes. To address these deficiencies, an alternative system of learning outcomes was developed at the TU/e: the Criteria for Academic Bachelor's and Master's curricula (Meijers, Van Overveld & Perrenet, 2005). This framework has received a warm welcome at universities of technology. Not just in The Netherlands, where it was adopted by the universities of Delft and Twente, but also in Europe at interuniversity co-operations like TU9 (alliance of German Institutes of Technology), CEASAR (Connecting All European and South American Researchers) and CLUSTER (Consortium Linking Universities of Science and Technology for Education and Research). The Criteria have been recognized by the NVAO (Accreditation Organisation for the Netherlands and Flanders) as a specific elaboration of the Dublin Descriptors, which allows universities to use the Criteria in official procedures for accreditation and visitation of their study programmes.
The main aim of the ACQA project group (active since 2005) is to assist education programmes of the TU/e in accreditation and daily quality assurance. To this end a number of methods for operationalizing the Criteria have been developed, foremost a method for describing the academic profile of a programme. It maps for all courses in the programme to which extent and to which level academic competences are addressed, and then calculates from this information a profile of the programme as a whole. This found profile turns out to provide useful insights for quality assurance, in particular because of the possibility to compare it with the desired profile of the programme. The ACQA project group has profiled a large number of Bachelor and Master programmes at nearly all Departments of the TU/e. Profiles were used in self assessments for accreditation and visitation, and have led to further analysis and advice by the project group for a number of programmes. The profiling method developed by the project group is also in use at the KU Leuven (Belgium) and the TU Berlin (Germany).
For more information: Tijn Borghuis