External quality assurance

The Office for Students (OfS) Designated Quality Body (DQB) for quality assurance in UK higher education is the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

The QAA, as DQB for the OfS, sets external reference points for higher education institutions in England. Institutions are expected to use these reference points when developing programmes and when designing their own internal quality assurance and enhancement procedures. In this way, it is possible to make broad comparisons about academic threshold standards across different institutions.

One of TQARO's roles is to consider these national reference points and to advise the School and its Departments on how best to meet them.

These reference points can be found in the QAA’s Quality Code.

National quality assurance and regulatory framework

The Office for Students (OfS) regulates the higher education system in England. The Office for Students’ primary aim is to ensure that English higher education is delivering positive outcomes for students – past, present, and future. It seeks to ensure that students, from all backgrounds (particularly the most disadvantaged), can access, succeed in, and progress from higher education. The OfS formerly replaced the Higher Education Funding Council for England as the regulatory body in April 2018.

The OfS is a risk-based regulator and as such, its assessment and monitoring activities are targeted at providers who represent a higher risk to students and their outcomes. Through ongoing monitoring the OfS aims to identify organisations that are not providing the academic experience and the reliable standards students should expect. When providers seek to register with the OfS, they will be tested against its quality and standards conditions. Once registered, the OfS will continue to monitor that a provider meets those conditions. The quality and standards conditions are as follows:

Condition B1: The provider must deliver well-designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience for all students and enable a student’s achievement to be reliably assessed.

Condition B2: The provider must provide all students, from admission through to completion, with the support that they need to succeed in and benefit from higher education.

Condition B3: The provider must deliver successful outcomes for all of its students, which are recognised and valued by employers and/or enable further study.

Condition B4: The provider must ensure that qualifications awarded to students hold their value at the point of qualification and over time, in line with sector recognised standards.

Condition B5: The provider must deliver courses that meet the academic standards as they are described in the Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ) at Level 4 or higher.

A subsequent, but relevant condition relates to how academic quality and standards in relation to teaching will be measured above the baseline requirements.

Condition B6: The provider must participate in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

The OfS’s regulatory framework will be fully in force from 1 August 2019. Further information about ongoing monitoring arrangements will be published by the OfS during 2018/19. In the meantime, the requirements previously set out for the transition period will apply, and there are three conditions that relate to quality and standards:

1. As part of an application for registration, a provider will need to satisfy a number of initial conditions of registration that relate to quality and standards. The outcome of the OfS’s assessment of these conditions during the registration process will also constitute the quality and standards outcome for the APR process for that provider for 2017/18. This means that the OfS will use this outcome to determine the provider’s eligibility for the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

2. When the current year’s data needed to construct quality and standards indicators becomes available in spring 2019, the OfS will assess a provider’s position to ensure that any changes in its performance since the registration decision can be identified. The provider may be required to take action if the OfS identifies any areas that need to be addressed.

3. Throughout the transition period the OfS will monitor the progress a provider is making to implement any action plan from previous APR cycles. In addition, if the OfS becomes aware of concerns about the integrity of standards, or the quality of the academic experience it will investigate.

QAA quality code

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the OfS’s Designated Quality Body (DQB), and carries out the quality and standards assessment functions set out in the Higher Education and Research Act. The DQB will assess providers on behalf of the OfS. This means the QAA will conduct reviews of higher education providers and give advice on the quality and standards of providers when the OfS makes decisions about whether to register a provider or grant degree awarding powers. Activities outlined in the designation agreement between the OfS and QAA also include designing and delivering a quality and standards review method as part of the OfS’s approach to random sampling.

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education, produced by the QAA in tandem with sector representatives, is used to assure the standards and quality of UK higher education. It is used by UK higher education providers to ensure they have in place the right kind of QA processes to help them monitor and assure academic quality and standards. It presents a series of reference points to help providers offer their students a high-quality experience and was revised in March 2018.

The revised Quality Code is based on three elements that together provide a reference point for effective quality assurance:

Expectations which clearly and succinctly express the outcomes providers should achieve in setting and maintaining the standards of their awards, and for managing the quality of their provision. These are underpinning principles that all institutions must adhere to.

Practices representing effective ways of working that underpin the delivery of the expectations, and will deliver positive outcomes for students. These include: Core practices that must be demonstrated by all UK higher education providers as part of assuring their standards and quality; and Common practices that will be applied by providers in line with their missions, their regulatory context and the needs of their students. These are practices common to the underpinning of quality in all UK providers but are not regulatory requirements for providers in England. In short, these are the sorts of operations and processes that the QAA would expect to see in place if they came for a visit.

Advice and guidance which will help established and new providers alike to develop and maintain effective quality assurance practices.

Part A of the current Quality Code ‘Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards’ includes other key reference points. These will remain in force under the revised Quality Code:

  • The Frameworks For HE Qualifications Of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies;
  • Higher Education Credit Framework For England;
  • Characteristics Statements;
  • Subject Benchmark Statements.

The regulatory framework includes other reference points (baseline requirements) which are relevant for internal quality assurance arrangements, beyond those included in the OfS quality and standards conditions (detailed above) and the UK Quality Code:

Combined, the above national quality assurance and regulatory arrangements provide an overarching framework in which LSE’s internal quality assurance procedures are located. Continued compliance with the OfS conditions for registration, and with the expectations under the national framework, will remain a requirement for all higher education providers and will evolve in line with developing OfS policy and practice. TQARO will refine LSE internal QA arrangements as required to ensure compliance with this national framework.

Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF)

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) assesses excellence in teaching at universities and colleges in England. It also assesses how well these institutions ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study. The TEF process is managed by the OfS and awards each institution a gold, silver or bronze rating for excellence, based on what the institution is achieving in addition to meeting the baseline national quality standards.

The TEF measures teaching, learning and graduate outcomes. It helps prospective students to choose where to study and also encourages higher education institutions to continually strive to develop a better experience for their students. From August 2019 entry into TEF will be a registration condition for higher education providers wishing to be included on the OfS register.

In 2019/20 the TEF assessment process will change from provider-level to subject-level. The existing key elements of TEF will be retained, such as; the criteria, the use of benchmarked metrics, provider submissions, the independent panel assessment process and the rating system. Assessment will be holistic, based on both core and split metrics supplemented by additional evidence. It will be carried out by peers comprised of experts in teaching and learning as well as subject experts, student representatives, employer representatives and widening participation experts. To inform the assessment, subject-level TEF will take account of both metrics and submissions at both provider and subject-level. Until fully implemented, participating providers will receive both a provider rating and a rating for each subject they teach.

Further information about the TEF can be found on the website of the Office for Students.

Framework for higher education qualifications (FHEQ)

The framework describes the achievement represented by higher education qualifications. The framework sets out five levels of award. Each level is accompanied by a 'qualification descriptor', which describes the nature and characteristics of the main qualification at each level. The framework therefore answers the questions: 'What is a BSc? What is an MSc?'.

When the document was published in 2001, we checked all of the School's awards against the FHEQ and confirmed they met the appropriate qualification descriptor.

The QAA revised the FHEQ in 2008. Our external examiner reports specifically ask externals to confirm that the level of our degree programmes are consistent with the level set in the FHEQ. The School's externals have consistently confirmed that its programmes operate at least at the appropriate level.

The FHEQ is also used by the School's approving bodies when new programmes are proposed.

For further information on FHEQs, see the QAA website: Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards.

Characteristics Statements

Characteristics Statements describe the distinctive features of qualifications at particular levels within the Qualifications Frameworks. They describe the qualifications in terms of their purpose, general characteristics and generic outcomes, but do not include subject level detail.

For more information about Characteristics Statements, see the QAA website: Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards.

Subject benchmark statements

Subject benchmark statements set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject.

Each statement provides broad indicators within subject areas against which institutions are expected to review their provision.

Not all statements apply to the School's own provision; a list of those that are applicable is available at QAA Subject Benchmark Statements: mapping to LSE Departments and Programmes (LSE internal access only).

The School considers each relevant statement when it is published (or updated) against its relevant degrees. It does this by asking Departments to read the statement and to confirm whether their programmes meet the broad indicators contained within them.

It is also open to Departments to make use of relevant statements when designing new programmes or when reviewing existing ones.

For more information about subject benchmark statements, see the QAA website: Subject Benchmark Statements.

Discover Uni and NSS

All institutions are required to publish information on the Discover Uni website. The aim is to help provide information for potential applicants. See the Discover Uni website for further information.

The Discover Uni information includes data from the National Student Survey. This is an annual survey of all full-time final year undergraduate students in higher education institutions in England. See the National Students Survey website for further information relating to the NSS.

What is the NSS?

The National Student Survey (NSS) is a very well established national survey, which the majority of undergraduates are invited to complete in their final year of study*. It is a nationally recognised survey which gives students a way of providing honest feedback on their satisfaction with their programme at their university or college.

Why should I take part?

  • The NSS provides you with the opportunity to provide honest feedback on your student experience;
  • Your feedback will be used to improve the student experience at LSE;
  • The results are taken very seriously and inform the quality assurance system with regards to teaching quality;
  • Results are used by prospective students, their families and advisors to make decisions on what and where to study.

What happens with the results?

The NSS results are made publicly available to help prospective students, their families and advisors make informed decisions of where and what to study. Institutions and students’ unions also use the data to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses to help bring about change and make improvements for future generations of students.

How do I complete it?

In early 2019 eligible students will be sent an invitation email to complete the survey by Ipsos MORI. Later, non-respondents may be contacted by post or ultimately by telephone, so complete the survey early to avoid being reminded. You can complete the NSS online or via a mobile device at www.thestudentsurvey.com during the survey period. You may opt out of the survey at any point during fieldwork.

 *You are eligible for the NSS if you are a final year undergraduate or are on a flexible part-time programme. If your final year cannot be easily predicted, you will be surveyed during your fourth year of study. If you were due to be in your final year in 2018, but have withdrawn or are repeating your penultimate year, you are also eligible to take part.


For further information on external quality assurance, please contact Thomas Hewlett: t.w.hewlett@lse.ac.uk

Last reviewed: October 2018