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Tertiary Quality Project - phases

Find out more about the how SFC has organised the project in phases to take this work forward:

Learning and Quality

Planning for implementation and delivery - Phase 4

In May 2023, SFC was pleased to commission the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) to lead on the design, planning and delivery of a multi-year external peer-review cycle for colleges and universities for implementation in AY 2024-25. QAA will work closely with Education Scotland throughout, thereby drawing on their extensive experience and utilising their knowledge and understanding of the college sector to ensure that the new approach and in particular the new external peer review method, is flexible enough to meet the needs of both the college and university sectors.

During this phase (which will run until the end of the 2023-24 academic year), SFC will continue to work with QAA and all the sector leads, who are taking forward the development of the new arrangements through the workstreams that were initially commissioned during phase 3. Updates relating to these activities will be shared with the sector as they are shaped and piloted during the coming academic year.

The new approach, including the new external review cycle for colleges and universities will be implemented from AY 2024-25, although the intention is to phase the timing of the first external reviews in colleges into the cycle slightly behind the first university reviews. Some aspects of the new approach, including a template for institutional self-evaluation and reporting on quality, will be piloted by some institutions on a voluntary basis in advance of their full implementation.

The proposed timeline for the development of the new external peer review approach (subject to QAA confirmation) is as follows:

  • External review cycle begins with first external reviews of universities – Spring 2025.
  • Colleges to be phased into the review cycle slightly later.
  • External review method handbook finalised and published – March/April 2024.
  • Quality agencies confirm external review schedule – October/November 2023.
  • Sector engagement on review method and schedule – August/September 2023.
  • SFC commission review method development from quality agencies – May 2023.

Co-creation - Phase 3

What’s next for the project?

Through phases 1 and 2, we clearly heard the need to continue to co-design and create the common approach with the sectors and stakeholders. The College Development Network report, Self-evaluation in the tertiary sector: co-creating a new approach [PDF] highlighted how to do this through the recommendations for SFC.

Building on the co-creation undertaken in phase 1 (mapping, self-evaluation and sector engagements), we developed a plan for phase 3 which involved of a series of co-creation workshops and workstreams that progressed, overseen by a cross-sector steering group.

Co-creation workshops Autumn 2022

SFC brought together colleges and universities and key stakeholders to support cross-sector understanding of how quality currently works across each. Our mapping work [PDF] demonstrates we have much in common across colleges and universities which provides a strong starting point for the development of a common approach.

A cross section of over 130 colleagues representing a broad range of our tertiary sector including students, quality agencies, colleges, universities and awarding bodies contributed to the workshops. The first focused on developing a shared understanding of quality processes in each sector and on shaping draft principles for a common approach, while the second focused on data and evidence to support evaluation and successful outcomes for students.

As a result of the workshops we:

  • Updated the draft principles that will underpin our common approach to quality assurance and enhancement.
  • Developed a draft data catalogue, mapping college and university metrics which underpin quality evaluation and review.

Workshop engagement was high and feedback suggested those attending found them extremely valuable in developing knowledge and understanding of their “opposite” sector.

Dr Omolabake Fakunle, Chancellor’s Fellow, from the University of Edinburgh commented:

“It’s been wonderful to engage in insightful discussions with a range of stakeholders across the education sector. The success of the workshops, whether online or in-person, reflects the quality of the content presented for discussion and debate, in a respectful collegial environment. I cannot thank enough the SFC Team for its hard work and commitment to making this possible and I am looking forward to seeing the impact of this important work.”

Ann Heron, Head of Quality Enhancement, Ayrshire college, said:

“I enjoyed participating in the tertiary stakeholder workshop and hearing from colleagues across both sectors about ‘how we do Quality’! Having input from QAA, Education Scotland, SQA and sparqs led to some interesting and lively discussions. I left the workshop with a much better understanding of the approach to Quality in the higher education sector and I look forward to further collaborations as the project develops.”

Mr Brian Green, Deputy Associate Principal, Learning and Teaching, University of Strathclyde shared these thoughts:

“The workshop was effective in bringing the sectors together to look at academic quality and enhancement – there was more common ground than I expected. The mapping exercise looking at respective college and university processes was particularly helpful to recognise and better understand the terminology used in relation to the processes we have in common that have the same objectives and focus.”

Policy Review and Reflection - Phase 2

Phase 2 comprised policy review and reflection and consolidating and considering the evidence, views and inputs from across stakeholders. We also considered emerging inter-relationships across policy agendas, including the Muir Review, as well as with other developing SFC Review areas.

This process enabled us to consolidate a deeper understanding of the responses to our original Review consultation. It also enabled us to be clearer about the benefits and gains we could make through a common approach to quality [PDF] which could support outcomes for learners, and the coherence and sustainability ambitions of our system.

Building evidence and mapping arrangements - Phase 1

The purpose of Phase 1 was to explore whether a common approach to quality assurance and enhancement was possible and to establish a shared understanding of the strengths and commonalities across the sectors. We undertook significant stakeholder engagement and co-creation of evidence with the sectors around how we might develop a common approach to quality for further and higher education in Scotland. In addition, we worked with fixed term expert advisory and sector working groups to provide advice and guidance on the scope and parameters of a common approach to quality.

Key questions we wanted to explore

  1. What are our current strengths and what do we want to keep from our current approaches? [PDF]
  2. What are the similarities and differences in our current approaches? [PDF]
  3. How can we build on institution processes for supporting and reporting quality enhancement and quality assurance? [PDF]


A series of workstreams were initiated during phase 3 and will be ongoing in phase 4, helping us to shape different aspects of the common approach and continue with co-creation. For example, they are helping to shape the evidence base for indicators that work within a learning and teaching context, and the architecture the sectors need to organise and continue ownership of the new approach in partnership with SFC and other stakeholders.

Shaping the common approach - management of co-creation and integration of workstreamsUsing data and evidence to understand, evaluate and improve student outcomesStrengthening institutional monitoring, self-evaluation and reporting on qualityEvaluating and enhancing the student learning experience and student partnershipTertiary sector enhancement activity

Tertiary Quality Project Steering Group

SFC will continue to work with the TQP Steering Group [PDF], which is made up of partners, experts and stakeholders to develop and shape this phase of the project.