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The Hellenic Quality Assurance Agency (HQA) was established by Law 3374/2005 in 2005 as the guardian of quality assurance in higher education. The Agency officially began its operations in 2006 following nomination of its members and its constitution as a body. In its original composition, the Plenary involved the President and twelve members.

According to its founding Law, the HQA’s mission is to support higher education institutions in implementing processes that aim at the assurance and continuous improvement of quality in higher education, informing the state and higher education institutions of the latest international developments and trends in related issues and the promotion of research in this field.

During the first year of its operation, the HQA pushed forward and worked out the framework of quality assurance processes. The above framework was notified to all institutions of higher education and their academic units with which the Agency created a culture of open communication aiming to guide them towards embracing the system of quality assurance. These actions made a major contribution to creating a quality culture in institutions of higher education, which led to the involvement of the first academic units in self-evaluation processes. So, the implementation of the project was initiated in 2008 with the external evaluation of the first five academic departments.

In 2011, significant institutional reform was introduced to the HQA with the enactment of Law 4009 by making changes to its governance and the structure of its services, as well as by modifying and expanding its responsibilities. In particular, following the introduction of the academic accreditation process, the HQA took on new duties, since it was assigned responsibility for organising and carrying out academic accreditation for study programmes and the institutions’ internal quality assurance system. To this end, the Agency was renamed the Hellenic Quality Assurance & Accreditation Agency.

In the period that followed, the HQA started planning the implementation of the new academic accreditation process and, at the same time, it completed the external evaluation of academic units and all institutions of higher education.

Today, having gained valuable experience by completing the project of external evaluation, the Agency has set new goals for the academic accreditation process of Greek institutions’ study programmes and internal quality assurance systems.

The work done by the HQA

To this day, the HQA:

  • Has completed the processes for the internal and external evaluation of 397 academic units of Greek institutions of higher education, and has coordinated the visits of over 1,580 foreign experts who work as faculty members in foreign institutions.
  • Has completed the internal and external evaluation of 36 Greek institutions of higher education.
  • Has completed the compilation of the HQA’s Register of Experts, which today includes 4,773 Greek and foreign academics (professors, researchers, etc.) appointed to quality assurance committees (evaluation, accreditation etc.).
  • Has supported the procedures for the election and promotion of teaching and research staff members in institutions of higher education, in response to the demands of academic units for the selection of electors according to the regulations in Article 19 of Law 4009/2011, according to which the foreign members from among the electors are selected from the HQA’s Register of Independent Experts.
  • Has been active in collating and analysing qualitative and quantitative data, in establishing quality indicators for higher education and in ensuring the operation of the National Information System for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.
  • Has prepared studies on the basis of internal evaluation reports of the academic units, and institutional reports prepared by the institutions’ QAUs, as well as external evaluation reports. The above data and studies have been made available to the Ministry of Education so that they can be taken into account in the preparation of the ATHENA Plan.
  • Has studied and prepared restructuring criteria for the map of higher education.
  • Has issued two opinions on the ATHENA Plan.
  • Has prepared an opinion text on the formulation of a national strategy for higher education, as provided for in Law 4009/2011.

Finally, the HQA, pursuant to Law 4009/2011, has studied and prepared:

  • The analysis of general accreditation criteria for study programmes
  • A proposal for the academic accreditation of study programmes
  • A course outline template
  • A proposal for the evaluation of institutions and the accreditation of the internal quality assurance system.

The work done by the HQA in the period 2015-2017

The actions carried out by the HQA in 2015 are connected with:

(a) The Agency’s responsibility for formulating a national strategy for higher education.

In particular, the HQA prepared an opinion text on the formulation of a national strategy for higher education, as provided for in Law 4009/2011. The text was drafted following consideration of all the factors related to the operation and development of the national higher education system. The analysis made highlighted the system’s strengths and weaknesses, together with existing opportunities and risks in its external environment. A key element of this analysis is the wording of the vision on national higher education:

“to turn Greek institutions of higher education into key factors in promoting the recovery of the Greek economy and society with a view to overcoming the current crisis and adopting a new growth model for the country. In the coming decades, higher education will be called upon to play a central part in transforming the national economy into a more productive, knowledge- and innovation-based economy for viable businesses, featuring attractive institutions of higher education able to endow scientists with a creative mind-set, broad education and state-of-the-art knowledge, in a socially inclusive country providing high quality of life and culture.”

The proposal results in the formulation of a specific conceptual framework for implementing the strategy, and, in particular, suggestions on its development.

(b) Carrying out internal and external evaluations for institutions of higher education.

More specifically, the key points of institutional quality assurance were highlighted. These relate to issues of leadership, strategic management and administration of institutions, as well as to operational and documentation issues with regard to their internal quality assurance systems. In particular, the HQA set up expert committees and analysed the outcomes of the external evaluation reports for 14 out of 36 institutions. The external evaluation for the remaining 22 institutions was completed during the first half of 2016. Outcome analysis highlighted the institutions’ most significant strengths and weaknesses, according to the experts’ judgement. The Committees’ final decision deserves a closer look, as on average, and with the fourth grading scale being the highest rating, institutions were rated on the third out of four scales. The main objective of the institutions’ external evaluation is to ensure their on-going quality improvement and not to make comparisons between them or decide on their ranking.

(c) Preparing the accreditation process for the institutions’ study programmes and internal quality assurance systems, by conducting specific studies on:

  • The institutions’ study guides and programmes in order to identify any difficulties and shortcomings when they are drafted.
  • The European dimension of study programmes by scientific field aiming at building on the European experience gained mainly from the Tuning European project.
  • Study programmes of leading to legislatively regulated professions.
  • Quality and innovation practices with a view to highlighting centres of excellence in higher education within the European and international area in order to clarify the concept of excellence and provide relevant examples.
  • Full operational costs and funding for Greek institutions of higher education. This study was based both on scientific approaches in order to create a relevant model and on best practices.

As for the HQA’s strategic and development activity in the year 2015, the following were carried out:

  • The internal and external evaluation of the HQA by the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and its recognition as a full member of ENQA.
  • HQA funding and financial activity. Support provided under the NSRF in implementing quality assurance actions.
  • Administrative organisation and restructuring of the HQA, and its scientific and technological development by acquiring and installing the National Information System for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NISQA) in order to ensure a smooth electronic communication between the HQA, institutions of higher education, the Ministry of Education and other interested parties.

 The activities of the HQA in the year 2016 involved:

a) The external evaluation of the remaining 22 institutions of higher education (12 Universities and 10 ΤΕΙs) of the country’s total 36. In particular, the site visits of external evaluation committees (EEC) to the institutions took place from February to July 2016, and final submission of the external evaluation reports by EECs was completed by November 2016.

At this stage, institutions have been evaluated in terms of their overall operation, strategy, objectives, structures, processes and regulations, their main information systems and services. It should be noted that the aim of the institutions’ external evaluation was not to rank them or benchmark them, but to successfully highlight their strengths and weaknesses with a view to helping them achieve self-awareness and therefore improve.

In accordance with the legislation in force, the institutions’ external evaluation reports are published on the Agency’s website, aiming, on the one hand, at ensuring transparency in evaluation processes, informing citizens and supporting institutions in their quest for continuous improvement, and, on the other, at informing the state in order to contribute effectively to the National Strategy for Education.

Each institution of higher education has been evaluated against four (4) axes of action with twenty seven (27) fields of analysis (including the overall decision of the EEC) as follows:

  • Institutions’ compliance with evaluation processes (2 fields);
  • Strategies implemented by the institution under review (13 fields);
  • Internal quality assurance system of the institution (10 fields);
  • Operation of the institution’s Central Administration (1 field).

In their assessment report, the experts included an analysis of their findings for each field, their recommendations and the Committee’s final decision expressed in a scale of four grades, according to ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) evaluation standards as follows: “worthy of merit, positive evaluation, partially positive evaluation and negative evaluation.”

b) The HQA’s strategic and development activity in the year 2016 focused on:

  • its funding and financial activity, and on implementing quality assurance actions;
  • its administrative organisation and restructuring, its international activity and technological development based on new digital content created in the National Information System for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (NISQA) with a view to ensuring a smooth electronic communication between the HQA, institutions of higher education, the Ministry of Education and other interested parties.

In 2017, the HQA recorded the most important parameters in the development of the institutions’ academic work and operation in that year. Based on the updated and detailed data compiled by the Agency through its information system (NISQA) the following becomes clear in terms of the following:

Structure of study programmes and student population

  • The majority of students study at universities (68%), whereas 32% of them study at TEIs.
  • The highest percentage of university undergraduate programmes belong to humanities and fine arts (21%) followed by engineering and processing sciences (19%). 13% of undergraduate programmes belong to economics and social sciences, with the same percentage belonging to natural sciences.
  • In TEIs, the highest percentage of undergraduate programmes belong to the field of technologists/mechanical engineers (50%), followed by business administration (30%) and health sciences (25%).
  • With regard to the distribution of university students by field of study, it is seen that the largest groups comprise in order of magnitude: (a) humanities and arts (18.17%), (b) economics and social sciences (17.70%) and (c) engineering and processing sciences (15.10%).

Teaching staff

  • The average rate of faculty departures reached 3.5%, while the average rate of recruitment ranged between 0.5% and 1%.
  • Special and laboratory technical teaching staff members (EEP/EDIP/ETEP) (16%) as well as teaching staff on fixed-term contracts (15%) cover a significant part of institutions’ teaching needs and their support.

Teaching work and student performance

  • 50% of university students seem to be completing their studies within standard duration (in n years), but there is a high percentage of students (37%) who are beyond n+2 years of study. In particular, the highest rates of students beyond n+2 years of study are found in business administration and law (47%), humanities and arts (46%) and natural sciences (45%), while students attending standard duration are primarily found in engineering and processing sciences (32%), education sciences (33%) and health sciences (39%).
  • In 2017, the average annual rate of university graduates is approximately 13% of the total active students (active students include students from all years of study). This percentage seems to have declined by 2 percentage points compared to the previous year, when graduates accounted for 15% of the total amount of active students.
  • The average degree grade for graduates is approximately seven (7) on a scale of 1 to 10, while 18% of graduates obtained their degree with a grade of eight (8) or above.
  • Most students graduating on time (in n years of study) have studied health (49.04%) and education sciences (48.55%).
  • The average amount of exceeding teaching facilities reported by universities is high. This percentage reaches 170%, which means that 70 students are admitted over and above the maximum number of 100 who can be trained by universities. This, in conjunction with a reduction in the teaching staff and a very low replacement rate takes a toll on the quality of studies.
  • Low mobility is reported both for incoming students (through Erasmus) (1%) and outgoing students (1%).

Research and Innovation

  • An average of eight (8) doctoral theses are awarded on an annual basis by each academic department.
  • Each professor supervises an average of three (3) doctoral theses.
  • In 2017, an average of 1.5 papers was published in peer-reviewed academic journals per faculty member.
  • Funding for research projects coming from European and international resources at a rate of 45% exceeds the amount of national (public and private) funding, which shows the institutions’ relatively high and internationalised research activity.
  • Innovation in “patents” and “spin-off” indicators remains extremely low in Greek institutions of higher education.

Funding and allocation of funding

  • Public funding reached on average 57% of the total funding to universities.
  • The amount of public funding in relation to the total amount of funding to universities saw an 8% increase in 2017 compared to 2016.
  • A significant amount (more than 30%) of the universities’ operational requirements is met by other sources (such as ELKE funding, tuition fees for postgraduate programmes, provision of laboratory and clinics services, donations, sponsorships, Engineers and Public Contractors Pension Fund (TSMEDE)).
  • The majority of the universities’ ordinary budget expenditure is inelastic (fixed operational costs, boarding, infrastructure maintenance, security).

Administrative staff, infrastructure and services

  • Staff working in department secretariats form the majority of administrative staff (21%) followed by staff working for Special Accounts for Research Funds–ELKE (17%), services for administrative matters and HR (16%), financial services (12%), library services (11%), and IT services (8%).
  • A very low percentage (ranging between 0.5% and 1%) of administrative staff is allocated to remaining services (QAU, DASTA and student welfare and counseling services). Therefore, institutions are facing difficulties in putting effective services in place regarding student welfare, research and innovation, technology transfer, connection with the labour market, and quality assurance.
  • An adequate number of seats is barely offered in teaching rooms, with an average ratio of one (1) seat for 3 students, while in libraries there is one (1) seat for 35 students.
  • However, electronic library services are particularly well-developed at national level, since access to a wealth of electronic scientific material is provided.

Furthermore, the HQA pursued five strategic goals in 2017 as follows:

  • To support institutions of higher education in developing their internal quality assurance and preparing accreditation for their IQAS and their study programmes by
    • organising workshops with QAUs from universities and TEIs throughout the country held at the headquarters of the HQA under the title “assessment and planning of quality assurance actions”;
    • organising colloquia with each institution at the headquarters of the HQA;
    • making presentations to presidents of departments and administrations of institutions of higher education;
    • supporting institutions in drafting quality manuals.
  • To ensure that the Agency’s activities are publicly communicated by holding public presentations in the Greek Parliament, TEI conferences, university and TEI deans assemblies.
  • To enhance its scientific function by standardising the collection and processing of data from the national and international area.
  • To ensure regular monitoring of European policies and activities linked with quality assurance in higher education by submitting an interim report to ENQA and a positive evaluation.
  • To actively seek funding for its activities linked with institutions’ quality assurance under the 2014-2020 NSRF following approval of the Action “Providing support to the Hellenic Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency (HQA) – New Phase” with code number IIS 5010714 under the 2014-2020 operational programme "Human Resources Development, Education and Life Lifelong Learning”.
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