NCFHE Carries out the First External Quality Assurance Audits

Publication Date: Feb 08, 2016
The National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) carried out the first External Quality Assurance Audits among the main public further and higher education institutions in Malta – the University of Malta, MCAST and ITS. This was done in line with the Commission’s legal role for ensuring quality assurance in further and higher education in Malta. 

Quality Assurance is defined as one or more processes which safeguard the quality of further and higher education within the economic, social and cultural context, on a national, European and international level; ensures the use of appropriate measures as a means of improving the quality of teaching, learning, training and research; and communicates the outcome of such findings within an internal and external framework of accountability (Regulation 63 of Chapter 327, the Education Act).

An External Quality Assurance Audit is designed to be conducted in a way which reflects relevant European standards, guidelines and criteria for external quality assurance. Such an audit analyses whether the internal quality management system of the institution is: fit for purpose according to the provider’s courses and service users; compliant with standards and regulations, and contributing to the development of a national quality culture; contributing to the fulfilment towards Malta’s Education Strategy 2014- 2024; and implemented effectively, comprehensively and in a sustainable manner.

Thus, the External Quality Assurance Audit determined if the Internal Quality Assurance system was fit for purpose, was functioning, effective, and sustainable. Moreover, it ensured that the Internal Quality Assurance Standards set out in the National Quality Assurance Framework for Further and Higher Education​ were being adhered to. These standards are:

  1. The establishment and publication of an effective policy for quality assurance;
  2. Institutional probity both financial and structural;
  3. Appropriate design and approval of programmes;
  4. Student-centred learning, teaching and assessment that encourages students taking an active role;
  5. Published and consistently applied regulations for student admission, progression, recognition and certification;
  6. Competence and effectiveness of teaching staff;
  7. Appropriate learning resources and student support;
  8. Collection, analysis and use of relevant information for the effective management of programmes and other activities
  9. Appropriate public information;
  10. On-going monitoring and periodic review of programmes;
  11. Cyclical external quality assurance

Under Subsidiary Legislation 324.433, further and higher education institutions accredited by the NCFHE were subject to periodic external quality assurance auditing. Prior to the lapse of five years from the date when the institution obtained its license, it applies to the NCFHE for a review of its accreditation through the External Quality Assurance process, particularly through External Quality Assurance Audits.

The first step was for the NCFHE to carry out scoping visits within these entities to adequately prepare the audited entity and the Peer Review Panel for the subsequent on-site reviews. The aim was to explore the complexity of provision and the state of preparedness and practice in terms of quality assurance.

The Peer Review Panel of every audit included a Peer Review Panel Chair (external expert), at least one Panel Member (external expert), two student-evaluators and one member of NCFHE staff. Each audit was undertaken over a 5-day period. This Panel made judgements by reference to the Internal Quality Assurance Standards referred to above. The judgement on each Standard was expressed as either surpasses Standard, meets Standard, requires improvement to meet Standard and does not meet Standard.

The first External Quality Assurance Audits were carried out by the NCFHE in April and May 2015 at the University of Malta, the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology and the Institute of Tourism Studies. The External Quality Assurance Audits were part of ESF Project 1.227 ‘Making Quality Visible’ and it is understood that this was a pilot, but fully-fledged external quality audit in line with the legal requirements.

Since this is the first-ever such external quality assurance audit in Malta, due account has been taken of the learning process which this has inevitably entailed. The Commission should carry out its regulatory responsibilities for standards in further and higher education independently, even-handedly, objectively and in a transparent manner. But it is also extremely conscious that it is breaking new ground in Malta, where a culture of accountability and sensitivity to constructive criticism has still to take root.

The Commission has been keen to ensure that these first-ever external quality audits are firm but fair, and impartial and objective as possible taking due account of the learning process they have inevitably entailed.

The results of these audits are in the form of reports which are currently being reviewed by the NCFHE Board. These will eventually be published, in sequence, over the next few weeks. The 3 separate reports, one for each entity, which include findings (both of good practice and areas for improvement), recommendations and any decisions, conditions or other formal outcomes. These also include a subsequent action plan that determines a follow-up procedure at the University of Malta, MCAST and ITS. Such reports will be publicly made available on