Assuring Quality at Swansea

Assuring Quality and Standards Throughout the COVID-19 Crisis

September 2020

Programme and Module Amendments

As the Covid-19 Pandemic continues and forces colleagues to make rapid changes to their teaching and assessment approaches in response to changing conditions, quality assurance processes need to adapt to enable this, whilst maintaining appropriate rigour and oversight at University level. 

From 16 March 2020, until the University determines the impact of the pandemic has reduced, the University has been operating a responsive process to enable changes to modules and programmes to be made at College/School level with the authority of the Directors of Learning and Teaching to approve any required changes to modules, and the standard process for programme amendments in relation to modular changes was suspended.  Any amendments which required significant changes to the structure of a programme have been managed on a case by case basis via Executive Action by the Programme Approval Committee and reported to that Committee to demonstrate an audit trail where necessary.

The process has been operating as follows:

  • The College/School’s Director of Learning and Teaching has extended executive authority to approve any changes to modules and assessment necessary until the University can return to normal operations.  Colleges/Schools are encouraged to establish an internal ‘expert panel’ of academics and/or related staff to review any changes with the Director of Learning and Teaching, and to ensure the ongoing quality of delivery, but without creating unnecessary delays and bureaucracy.
  • College/School’s assigned Academic Quality Engagement Officer will provide advice and support, and co-ordinate any changes required within Academic Services.
  • Once approved and enacted, College/School Learning and Teaching Committee members can be notified of any changes required.
  • External Examiners will receive a report on any changes made to module assessment at the end of the session but will not be required to approve such changes in advance, given the challenging circumstances.

As we prepare for the new year and additional challenges caused both by recruitment, timetabling and changing national and international circumstances, the process for changes to modules and programmes will operate as follows from 24 August 2020 until 31 October 2020 in the first instance:

Changes to Optional Modules:

No change – Optional Module changes are approved in College under the authority of the Director of Learning and Teaching, nominally through the College Learning and Teaching Committee, but for expediency Executive Action can be taken and/or authority for review and reporting delegated to an appropriate nominee, with the Director of Learning and Teaching retaining overall authority and accountability for said changes.

For the following changes, Colleges/Schools should seek advice on required changes from Academic Quality Services in the first instance:

Changes to Core or Compulsory Modules:

Changes to Core or Compulsory modules (syllabus, content, delivery method, assessment) which do not materially alter the overall integrity of the Programme (learning outcomes do not change, programme structure does not fundamentally change, Programme remains CMA compliant), can, for the duration of this interim process, be approved by the College/School Director of Learning and Teaching or appropriate nominee, under the authority of the College/School Director of Learning and Teaching.

Where changes to Core or Compulsory Modules may significantly affect the integrity of the programme, or you are unsure of the impact, please contact Academic Quality Services for advice.

Changes to Programmes:

Changes to programmes as a result of changes to Core or Compulsory Modules can, for the duration of this interim process, be approved by the College/School Director of Learning and Teaching or appropriate nominee, under the authority of the College/School Director of Learning and Teaching.

Significant changes to Programmes, including adding additional start dates, years abroad or in industry or programme pathways/variants etc. must still be reviewed by the Programme Approval Committee.

Recording and Reporting:

All changes must still be recorded in the attached Spreadsheet, reported to College LTCs and then to PAC through AQS at the end of each month.  Your College Engagement Officer will request the latest report when it is due.

External Examiners

To protect the student experience and the integrity of the programme,  every effort should be made to ensure External Examiners are appraised, and supportive of, the planned changes. However, we recognise the challenging time for all and if this proves to be impossible, please notify Academic Quality Services who will advise.

Please note that to ensure the necessary University oversight of all Programme changes is maintained, Directors of Learning and Teaching will remain accountable for ensuring due process is followed for any changes made to programmes in their Colleges/Schools, and reporting is mandatory, to mitigate any potential risk to Quality Assurance.

Quality Reviews

  • All outstanding Quality Reviews scheduled to be undertaken in the 2019-20 academic year are currently postponed and the timeframe for their completion will be revised depending on the expected date of our return to business as usual.
  • The only exception to this is the review of the GDL and LPC programmes, which was already scheduled to happen without the need for a face to face meeting and has been agreed to continue.
  • It is proposed therefore, that any programmes which are within their sixth and final year of the quality review cycle, should have this period extended by one year to ensure that they can be reviewed during the 2020-21 session where necessary.
  • A proportionate and risk-based approach will be taken to identifying the most appropriate format for each review moving forward, with a focus on limiting the administrative burden on academic and professional services staff.
  • Academic Quality Services are working to devise the schedule for Quality Reviews to be undertaken in the 2020-21 academic year and will liaise with the Colleges/Schools in due course to begin discussions around the specific approach and timings for these reviews, mindful that current restrictions may be in place for a longer period than initially expected.
  • Academic Quality Services are currently finalising some changes to the operational aspects of the Quality Review process and guidance in relation to these changes will be communicated in due course.

Annual Programme Review and Module Review

We have revised the approach to APR for the 19/20 session to take account of the challenging circumstances, as follows:

  • Annual Module Level Review:

Given the changes enforced by COVID-19, we propose that all Module Coordinators complete, in consultation with their teaching colleagues, a module review based on one of the two templates available here: for Semester 1 and Semester 2. For the adversely affected modules in Semester 2, this will be a focussed activity designed to capture the specific context and summarise the adjustments that individual academics have made to ensure that their modules have been taught out effectively. Semester 1 forms are largely the same as for 18/19.

 Annual Programme Review – APR will be modified as follows:

All Annual Module Review forms should be compiled by Programme Directors to provide a detailed account of the activity that has taken place within the programme at module level. We then ask that Programme Directors produce a brief programme level statement which will bring these together in combination to act as the APR submission for 19/20. A template for this statement can be found here.

Complete Annual Programme Reviews should be submitted to Directors of Learning and Teaching by 31 August 2020. Final submissions should be made to Academic Quality Services by 30 September 2020.

  • Annual Module and Programme Review: January 2021 entry

A similar approach to module and programme review will be rolled out for all programmes commencing in January 2021, which will also act as a quality assurance ‘checkpoint’ for those programmes planned for delivery beyond 2021. Only programmes evidencing concerns will be reviewed further, and this will be through the existing triggered Quality Review process where necessary.

Action Planning

Academic Quality Engagement Officers will work in partnership with Directors of Learning and Teaching and Quality managers/coordinators to update and implement integrated action plans covering College/School level responses to the COVID-19 shutdown. These will be based on existing templates and will be hosted in Microsoft Teams, to ensure they are accessible.

The Academic Data Quality Committee will continue to monitor these action plans, starting from the 04 June 2020 meeting.

Quality Enhancement Review 2020

The QAA Quality Enhancement Review scheduled for 23 March 2020 was postponed. The University has now had confirmation from the QAA that the Review will take place online the week of the 09-13 November 2020.

External Examining:

The University has reviewed the expectations of its External Examiners in the current circumstances, acknowledging that there needs to be flexibility whilst maintaining academic standards and compliance with core principles as expediently as possible.

Currently, the University’s External Examiners have responsibility for the following:

  • Review of assessment before it is confirmed;
  • Review of a sample of marked assessments;
  • Review of the distribution of marks;
  • Attendance at examination boards.
  • Sign-off of award endorsement forms;

In consideration of the current Covid-19 situation, and in particular the move away from unseen written examinations and the UK Government restrictions placed upon travel at the current time, the following amendments to External Examiner duties/roles have been approved:

  • Review of sample of marked assessment – volume to be decided locally;
  • Review mark distribution– volume to be decided locally;
  • Where an External Examiner has already been sent an assessment to review, the External should be allowed to carry on with this work and their comments taken into consideration when confirming the assessment;
  • Should an External Examiner become unable to carry out their duties due to illness, the college/school can instead appoint a panel of “internal externals” to undertake the review;
  • External Examiners whose contract is scheduled to expire in 2020 will be given the option to take an extension of one year’s tenure;
  • Those External Examiners who do not already have access to Canvas and Turnitin should be granted access to view materials. This must now also apply to Canvas;
  • External Examiners should have a virtual presence at exam boards, where possible;
  • External Examiners should continue to submit reports via the online system where possible, but the timeframe for submission may be extended;
  • Electronic signatures will be accepted to sign-off endorsement forms.


  • The analysis of student survey outcomes (UG, PGT and PGR)
  • The analysis of External Examiner reports (UG and PGT)
  • Programme Approval and amendment, via Programme Management Board and Programme Approval Committee, which will continue to operate online.
  • All other AQS managed committees will run in a more flexible but otherwise normal fashion online, specifically:
    • Learning, Teaching and Quality Committee
    • Directors of Learning and Teaching Meetings
    • Academic Regulations and Cases Board
    • Collaborative Partnerships Board
    • Collaborative Partnerships Board Executive
    • Academic Advisory Committee
    • Academic Data Quality Committee
  • College/School Engagement will be enhanced to provide maximum support for quality assurance and other academic matters during this challenging time.

Committees operating in a more flexible mode:

  • Programme Management Board
  • Programme Approval Committee

The business of these Committees is being addressed through flexible and streamlined approaches to service. Both PMB and PAC will continue with regular executive meetings which will be convened to address individual items of business. Programme Approval Committee will be notified of any minor changes to programmes which have been approved locally to ensure the reporting and audit trail can be maintained, but will not review or approve these changes unless specifically requested to review a case. In cases where substantive changes are required at programme level, an Executive Action and/or a specially convened single item remote approval event will be scheduled will consider such proposals.

Programme Approval Committee Strategy Group position statement on January entry 2021

PAC is committed to supporting and facilitating January 2021 entry points for programmes in response to the COVID-19 crisis, where it is identified this will enable to the University to maintain recruitment. It should be noted that approval of January entry points is an emergency arrangement for January 2021 only.

Programme Approval Committee Strategy Group position statement on staff resources for new programmes

Since most staff recruitment is currently suspended, the PAC Strategy Group position on new approval is that provided a module coordinator has been identified for each first-year module, then a programme can be approved. However, should the programme require additional staffing expertise for delivery beyond the first year of operation, then an appropriate condition will be required, which must be addressed before the programme can enrol students.

Academic Records and Systems

To ensure smooth and swift responses, it is recommended that the Academic Records and Systems Team is included in discussions from the outset. It is proposed that a College ‘super user’ should be identified and trained to support the Academic Records and Systems Team locally. The ‘super user’ would be empowered to make changes within the SITS and Assessment systems to facilitate working.

Academic Quality Services will submit records of any changes as they occur, and work to support other sections of Academic Services to ensure the changes are recorded and reflected in our systems and that the necessary audit processes are maintained.

Phil Maull

Head of Academic Quality Services

Swansea University is committed to ensuring the highest standards of learning, teaching, assessment and research for every student, leading to an exceptional student experience and positive student outcomes. Academic Quality Services is instrumental in managing this approach, working closely with Academic Services as a whole and professional services and academic Colleges/ Schools across the institution to maintain and enhance quality and standards.

Swansea University’s approach to Quality Assurance and Enhancement is based upon the QAA’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education and fully aligned to the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies and Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales. Using a full range of key metrics, and integrating elements of the Teaching Excellence Framework, has enabled us to create a balanced, proportionate and risk-based approach to quality assurance and enhancement, which focuses on identifying where improvements are required, and ensuring that these happen.

Swansea also has a Governance Structure of Committees and Boards at College/School and University level, ultimately overseen by the University’s Senate and Council. Swansea’s regulations, quality and standards Governance Structure are managed through the Learning, Teaching and Quality Committee and its associated sub-Committees and Boards, including Academic Regulations and Cases Board, Progression and Awards Board, Collaborative Partnerships Board and Programme Approval Committee.

Academic Quality Services also develop and manage a range of electronic and physical publications for students and staff, including Academic RegulationsUniversity Handbooks and Codes of Practice.

Measuring Quality: Making Best Use of Data

Whilst it is essential not to lose sight of the inherent value in qualitative data, conversations and direct engagement, we have rebuilt our quality processes to be data informed, and aligned to both the University’s strategy and business planning process, in the belief that quality assurance must be integral to the University’s success as a business. As Universities are now measured and ranked in the public sphere, this is where we take a cue for the data sets, to ensure programmes and subject areas are benchmarked against national competitor groups. As a result, our Quality Review process in particular makes full use of key data sets, primarily aligned to the Teaching Excellence Framework and League Table data.

This approach enables us to make data-informed and risk-based decisions on where to target support and enhancement most effectively, to best deliver the best possible student experience, whilst ensuring we can deliver the most efficient and highest impact process possible.


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