AIKA / AIC becomes a full member of ENQA

The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) has taken their decision about granting full membership to the Quality Agency for Higher Education (AIKA), which is a valuable decision in the Latvian higher education area for further higher education area development and AIKA’s operation.

This decision by ENQA confirms that both Latvian and foreign higher education institutions, students, and other stakeholders can trust higher education quality assessments organised by AIKA.

The Quality Agency for Higher Education (AIKA) of AIC since its first activities in 2015 has purposefully been heading towards compliance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), thus fostering the increase and recognition of the Latvian higher education quality.

The decision about granting the status of the full ENQA member to AIKA for the coming five years means that AIC has been recognised a reliable and trustworthy cooperation partner in the higher education area.


External international review of the AIKA/AIC

In August 30, AIC submitted a request to EQAR to start the international review of the Academic Information Centre of Latvia. This review, will evaluate the way in which and to what extent AIC fulfils the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). Consequently, the review will provide information to the ENQA Board to aid its consideration of whether membership of AIC should be granted and to support AIC application to register in EQAR. It is expected that the review will be finished in the end of the 2018.


Background and Context

History of Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Latvia

Latvia is one of the earliest European Higher Education Area (EHEA) countries that have developed a quality assurance system and established a quality assurance agency. The first Latvian quality assurance agency (AIKNC) was established in 1994 and it ensured the accreditation of study programmes and institutions. However, in 2012, as an element of reforms in higher education, the Ministry of Education and Science decided to transfer accreditation activities from the AIKNC to the Ministry of Education and Science.


Establishing the current quality assurance agency

On 3 November 2014, the Latvian government decided to set up a new, independent QA Agency for higher education. This new agency should operate according to the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) and become a full member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and be included in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).

The Government also decided to assign the task to establish the new agency Academic Information Centre (AIC). The AIC is an independent, non-profit foundation, to undertake the task to establish the new quality assurance agency as an autonomous department of the AIC. All units of the AIC are involved in higher education.

The AIKA was established in March 2015 and started to work at a full capacity on 1 July 2015. The AIKA is a new agency, but it grew rapidly due to several important growth factors. The establishment of the Agency took place at the same time as the finalisation of the ESG-2015, and the Agency could implement the new ESG version straight ahead; the AIKA also was based on the experience and knowledge it took over from the expert pool and the database of the former agency AIKNC.

The AIKA is autonomous and recognized as the national quality assurance agency for higher education, set up to improve the external quality assurance system for Latvian higher education, which would operate in accordance with the ESG and promote the quality, visibility and international recognition of Latvian higher education, covering the entire Latvian higher education system: both state and private HEIs and from short-cycle programmes to doctoral ones.


Support for establishing agency

Before the AIKA started working, the Law on Institutions of Higher Education was amended and new Government Regulations were adopted on 14 July 2015, which introduced the ESG-15 principles into the national legislation. Minor additional amendments where implemented in 2017. In addition, the Latvian government has approved and submitted to the Parliament for ratification an amendment to the Law of HEIs to allow the agencies registered with the EQAR to operate in Latvia as of 1 January 2018.

To support the AIC to train its staff, experts, HEIs and stakeholders, develop methodology and strengthen the equipment of the Agency, the Latvian government also provided both Latvian state funds and European Social Funds project “The Support for Meeting the Requirements Set for EQAR Agency”.


Internationalisation of the Agency

The Agency is an affiliate of ENQA since April 2015, a full member of the Central and Eastern European Network of Quality Assurance Agencies (CEENQA) since 2016, a full member of the Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) since 2016, and of the European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education (ECA) since 2017.

The AIKA is ensuring internationalisation in several ways: participating in the exchanges of experts, joint assessment, the exchange of experience, and information and training.

AIC has been an affiliate of ENQA since April 2015 and is applying for ENQA membership.

AIC is applying for registration on EQAR.


Activities of AIC within the scope of the ESG

In order for the agency to apply for ENQA membership and for potential registration in EQAR, this review will analyse all activities of AIC that are within the scope of the ESG, i.e. reviews, audits, evaluations or accreditation of higher education institutions or programmes that relate to teaching and learning (and their relevant links to research and innovation). This is regardless of whether these activities are carried out within or outside the EHEA, and whether they are obligatory or voluntary.

The following activities of the AIC have to be addressed in the external review:

Initial accreditation of new programmes (local title “Licensing”) is an ex-ante evaluation and an initial assessment. Licensing is an EQA activity carried out to determine the potential quality of a new study programme in order to give a permission to start programme implementation and enrol students.

Accreditation of groups of study programmes (local title “Accreditation of study directions”). This is an EQA activity for evaluating and assessing groups of programmes. Accreditation procedures lead to a formal decision. The conclusion is based on the set of pre-defined criteria.

Institutional evaluation. This EQA activity includes examining the quality of all activities within a higher education institution that include the management of the organisation, financial matters, facilities, teaching and research, etc.

Assessment of feasibility on changes in study programmes (i.e. study directions). Non-cyclical activity that is done based on the request of HEIs if changes were made in their study programme between two cyclical assessments of study direction falling under one of five cases mentioned in Cabinet Regulations (for example, changes in the title of the study programme, language of instruction, enrolment requirements, degree and qualification awarded and other).