Amendment to the Higher Education Act threatens the independence of accreditation procedures

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Opinion on the well-publicised objections to the Accreditation Agency

The Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education has learned about the proposed changes to the structure of the agency’s bodies through a new amendment to the Higher Education Act from the media. The amendment will negatively affect the accreditation procedures of higher education institutions, which have been in preparation for two years and which aim to bring the mechanisms for improving and ensuring the quality of education directly inside higher education institutions in the light of European Standards and Guidelines (ESG 2015). The proposed change will abolish the independence of the agency, a prerequisite for admission to European structures, and thus reduce the value of university graduates’ diplomas abroad.

“In a well-governed society, it is not standard for such fundamental changes in the functioning of an independent and professional arm of higher education to happen without the participation of the affected parties. Especially in a situation when the planned changes may frustrate inclusion in European structures, in which Slovakia is one of the few countries still missing,” said Robert Redhammer, Chair of the Agency’s Executive Board.

The Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education will initiate a meeting with the Minister of Education to openly discuss why the Agency was not informed about the last-minute draft changes to the Act on Quality Assurance in Higher Education, which will also have implications for accreditation procedures. At the same time, representatives of the Agency will discuss with the Minister the fact that state interference in the independence of institutions related to higher education, mainly for political reasons, will cause Slovakia to be excluded from the European Higher Education Area.

Accreditation procedures in Slovakia today are conducted in accordance with the current European Standards and Guidelines (a convention of Ministers of Education in Europe). At the turn of the year, the Agency accredited 177 applications from universities for accreditation of new study programmes that had already been assessed according to these European rules. Those successfully accredited will now be open to applicants. The Agency emphasises that the proposals for new study programmes had to be subjected to peer review by experts and practitioners before the applications for accreditation could be submitted. Despite this, 10% of universities’ applications for accreditation were rejected for failing to meet the standards after being assessed by the Agency’s external experts.

At the same time, more than 1 000 non-prospective study programmes were cancelled by universities on the basis of the Agency’s recommendations. This process was carried out in close cooperation with Slovak universities and will bring greater quality and expertise to students.

The Slovak Higher Education Accreditation Agency is currently undergoing an international assessment of the compliance of its procedures with the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG 2015) by the relevant European authorities. If successful, the Agency will become a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and will be registered in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR). Full membership of the Agency’s predecessor, the Accreditation Commission, an advisory body to the Slovak Government, was prevented by the requirement for independence from political power.

Representatives of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education also want to discuss with the Minister of Education the tenure of Bálint Lovász in the Agency’s structures. Despite the fact that he has been a member of the Agency’s executive board for almost three years and has been involved in practically all decisions, he has only now started to actively question its current functioning. In doing so, he is either refusing to take his share of responsibility for the work of the agency, or he is merely trying to create a space for the politicisation of the agency by his criticism.

Media contact: Zlata Petrusova, zlata.petrusova [at]; tel. 0948/988 265