In Estonia, pursuant to the Universities Act, the Institutions of Professional Higher Education Act and the Private Schools Act, a new national system of quality assurance of higher education will be implemented as of 1 January 2010.
In order to be granted the right to conduct studies at the higher education level (the so-called education license of the new generation), private, public and state institutions of higher education shall submit a request, attaching to it information on the quality, resources, and sustainability of studies to the Ministry of Education and Research. The request shall be processed through the Estonian Higher Education Quality Agency. In the event of a positive result, the right to conduct studies shall be approved by a regulation of the Government of the Republic in an Annex to the Standard of Higher Education.
External evaluation carried out by an independent accreditation agency (the Estonian Higher Education Quality Agency (EKKA) or, with its approval, a competent foreign quality assessment agency).
The institutional accreditation of a higher education institution is an external evaluation during which the internal quality assurance system of the educational institution and its functioning are assessed, including the fulfilment of tasks with which the educational institution has been entrusted and the conformity of its management, administration, study and research environment to the objectives and development plan of the educational institution.The assessment of the quality of a study programme group consists of evaluation of the conformity of the study programmes belonging to the study programme group and the instruction provided on the basis thereof to legislation as well as to national and international standards, including the level of the corresponding theoretical and practical instruction, the research and pedagogical qualification of the teaching staff and research staff, as well as the sufficiency and sustainability of resources for the provision of instruction.
Pursuant to law, the institutional accreditation and quality assessment of study programme groups can be requested and carried out as of 1 January 2010, provided that the relevant institution of higher education has been granted the right to conduct studies in at least one study programme group at the higher education level. As the Government of the Republic will issue the first education licenses at the end of 2009, the actual implementation of institutional accreditation and the assessment of quality of study programme groups will probably be postponed until 2011.
The main differences between the new system and the previous one are, as follows:
- All institutions of higher education must request an education licence from the Government of the Republic in order to obtain the right to conduct studies in a specific study programme group and at a specific level of education. The education license received for the study programme group extends state recognition to all study programmes in that group.
- There is no accreditation of a single study programme; assessment committees, comprised of international experts, give feedback to the entire study programme group at least once every seven years.
- Institutional accreditation, or an external evaluation of the functioning of the organisation as a whole and its system of quality assurance, is going to be the main instrument for quality assurance.
- The purpose of an external evaluation of higher education is feedback, not the application of sanctions.
For further information, please visit the website of Estonian Higher Education Quality Agency.