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Placing Students at the Heart of Quality Assurance

Student participation in quality assurance has been one of the success stories of the student participation in higher education governance and Bologna process in general. This has been acknowledged in the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG)  since 2005 – at institutional level, external reviews and in quality assurance governance. Still, it must be remembered that there is a marked difference between formal and active involvement of students in quality assurance. Thus, the recognition of students as full and active stakeholders in quality assurance processes will remain an issue.

The degree of success in achieving student participation still varies across the European Higher Education area. It depends on the development stage of national and international quality assurance systems but also on historical, political and cultural differences.
Students have a uniquely intrinsic motivation for getting involved in quality assurance – the improvement of study programmes and universities in general is, as such, also the improvement of their own education. Areas where the students view is especially important are the quality of teaching outcomes and ensuring good environment for the teaching and learning process . One of the first international debates about including students in the review panels was held at the European University Association Institutional Evaluation Programme (EUA IEP). Today, however, students have been included and there is a general agreement on the fact that students have had a positive impact.

A survey carried out by EUA IEP in 2013  shows that institutions appreciate the student participation. Some consider that the review team is closer to the students’ views and students within the institution under evaluation can identify themselves with someone in the team. Others think that the general atmosphere became less formal due to the presence of the students. Some of the reviewed institutions related student participation as external evaluators to an opportunity for enhancing student participation in their own governance structures, and student participation in the institution’s life at large. The inclusion of student reviewers in external reviews is also a way for the agency to communicate its belief that students should be full and active members of the university community. Adopting quality assurance and quality cultures is a gradual process. Key steps in this process are enhancing trust, participation and, eventually, ownership of quality related activities.

Student participation in all levels of quality assurance and decision-making in higher education is needed in order to pursue quality of higher education and students should embrace their status as the heart of the process. Students’ motivation for participation in quality assurance and development activities can be enhanced only if the activities for quality assurance and procedures are effective and visible. Thus, students must be listened to, as well as encouraged to be more active and take initiative.


European Standards and Guidelines;

European Students’ Union, Quest for Quality for Students (QUEST) project,

Zhang T, Students as external evaluators in peer-review based EQA: Five years of student participation in the Institutional Evaluation Programme,


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