External quality assessment of Finnish higher education balances between European unity and national autonomy

Higher education mirahuusko

External quality assessment of Finnish higher education is mainly based on audits of higher education institutions. One of the key questions in the external quality assessment of higher education is the relationship between European unity and national autonomy. Higher education is undergoing constant change both in Finland and Europe, which also affects external quality assessment.

In October, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) published a publication describing the external quality assessment of Finnish higher education and changes that have taken in it between the 1980s and the present day. The publication is aimed at providing an overall picture of the development of external quality assessment of higher education institutions and ideas for planning the forthcoming fourth audit round. The external quality assessment of higher education institutions in countries part of the European Higher Education Area is based on the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). However, national solutions for external quality assessment in higher education differ from each other.

 

Enhancement-led evaluation adopted as an approach at an early stage

In Finland, external quality assessments of higher education follow the principles of enhancement-led evaluation. In every stage of the history of external assessment of higher education, Finland has committed to the idea of enhancement-led evaluation. Today, the principle of enhancement-led evaluation is confirmed in a decree concerning the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC).

In many European countries, accreditation is programme-based. Compared to them, the audit model of higher education in Finland is comprehensive. In addition to education provision, the audit targets research, development and innovation (RDI) activities and the societal impact of the operation. The starting point is the autonomy of higher education institutions and responsibility for developing their own activities.

 

The strengthening of planning and monitoring in the public sector as the starting point

In the publication, the external quality assessment of Finnish higher education is examined as a historical continuum. At the national level, the starting point was the general strengthening of planning and monitoring in the public sector. The key solution for higher education has been to emphasise the higher education institutions’ own responsibility for developing their activities and monitoring their performance, not only external control.

At the time of establishing the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council in 1995, it was decided that a joint Council would be established for universities of applied sciences and universities. Since 2014, this work has been continued by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, FINEEC.

 

European development has had a strong influence on implementations in Finland

During the 21st century, the most important driver in Europe has been the Bologna Process, which brought a need to change the national assessment policy. The Bologna Process and the European standards and guidelines for quality assurance have greatly influenced the external quality assessment of Finnish higher education. However, although the principles are common, the national solutions are different in the different European countries. Finland’s response was to start and establish audits of higher education institutions. There is a clear division of labour between the evaluation organisation, the higher education institutions, and the Ministry, which has for its part promoted the acceptability of evaluations in higher education institutions.

In Finland, the development of higher education evaluation activities has been influenced by both national and European trends. Finland’s audit system was developed in parallel with the common European standards and guidelines and Finland joined the European quality assessment organisations at an early stage.

 

The publication 

Kehittävä arviointi Suomen valintana – Yli kolme vuosikymmentä suomalaisen korkeakoulutuksen ulkoista laadunarviointia (Enhancement-led evaluation as Finland’s choice – Over three decades of external quality assessment of Finnish higher education), Finnish Education Evaluation Centre 24:2022

 

Further information

Mira Huusko, Senior advisor, tel. +358 29 533 5565, mira.huusko(at)karvi.fi

Riitta Pyykkö, Professor emerita, tel. +358 40 834 4086, riitta.pyykko(at)utu.fi

Close