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Higher education accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of post-secondary educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency.
In most countries around the world, the function of educational accreditation for higher education is conducted by a government organization, such as a ministry of education. In the United States, however, the quality assurance process is independent of government and performed by private agencies.
The United States-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental organization, maintains an international directory which contains contact information of about 467 quality assurance bodies, accreditation bodies and ministries of education in 175 countries. The quality assurance and accreditation bodies have been authorized to operate by their respective governments either as agencies of the government or as private (non-governmental) organizations. In September 2012, University World News reported the launching on an international division of the council.
Canada does not have a system of national or regional accreditation. Provincial legislation and membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada are substitutes. Some universities seek evaluation from American regional accreditation agencies.
- Accreditation by collation of academic degrees – the first-tier accreditation. Whereas institutions of higher education issues diplomas, only the ministry can award degrees. It is the main accreditation level and automatically awarded to public universities.
- Accreditation by visa – the second-tier accreditation. Only for private institutions.
- Accreditation by recognition – the third-tier accreditation. Only for private institutions.
In some education fields, the ministry must take official advise from special bodies. The ministry follows in almost every case the body advice.
- Business Schools – the official consultation body is the Commission d'évaluation des formations et diplômes de gestion. There are two levels of accreditation.
- Accreditation by collation of master's degree
- Accreditation by visa
- Engineering Schools – the official consultation body is the Commission des Titres d'Ingénieur. It is an accreditation authority for private schools, but only an advising body for public schools.
- Accreditation of Engineer's degrees
- Vocational education – the consultation body is the Commission Nationale de la Certification Professionnelle (National Commission for Vocational Certification).
- Accreditation by inscription on the Répertoire national des certifications professionnelles (National Repertory of Vocational Certifications), which is a five-level listing.
- Accreditation of Mastère Spécialisé (Specialized Master or Advanced Master), only in grandes écoles
- Accreditation of Mastère en sciences (MSc), only in grandes écoles
- Accreditation of Bilan d'aptitude délivré par les grandes écoles (Assessment of competency issued by grandes écoles), only in grandes écoles
French schools, mainly Business Schools, may seek non-French accreditation.
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Association of MBAs (AMBA)
- European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD)
- EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), the more prestigious
- EFMD Program Accreditation System (EPAS)
The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kultusministerkonferenz or KMK) was founded in 1948 by an agreement between the states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Among its core responsibilities, the KMK ensures quality development and continuity in tertiary education. Bachelor and Master programs must be accredited in accordance to a resolution of the Kultusministerkonerenz.
The Foundation for the Accreditation of Study Programs in Germany or Accreditation Council (Akkreditierungsrat) was created in a KMK resolution on October 15, 2004. The Accreditation Council certifies accreditation agencies and establishes guidelines and criteria for program and system accreditation. There are currently ten certified agencies.
- AHPGS – Accreditation Agency for Study Programs in Special Education, Care, Health Sciences and Social Work
- AKAST – Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of Canonical Study Programs
- ACQUIN – Accreditation, Certification and Quality Assurance Institute
- AQAS – Agency for Quality Assurance by Accreditation of Study Programs
- AQ Austria – Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria
- ASIIN – Accreditation Agency for Degree Programs in Engineering, Informatics/Computer Science, the Natural Sciences and Mathematics
- evalag – Evaluation Agency Baden-Württemberg
- FIBAA – Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation
- OAQ – Swiss Center of Accreditation and Quality Assurance in Higher Education
- ZEvA – Central Evaluation- and Accreditation Agency
These agencies accredit programs of study for bachelor's and master's degrees and quality management systems (system accreditation) from state or state recognized Higher Education institutions in Germany and abroad. AKAST only accredit programs of study.
In Greece, the accreditation authority/national recognition body is the HQA – Hellenic Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency  which was established by Law 3374/2005 and 4009/2011 and belongs to the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs. It is the government supervisory and coordinating agency of the quality assurance framework applied in Hellenic Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Accreditation is compulsory for all universities in Greece.
The HQA accredits programs of study for undergraduate degree and postgraduate degree and quality management systems (system accreditation) from state or state recognized HEIs in Greece. The right of conferring or granting university degrees shall be exercised only by a State University established. Thus, any institute which has not been created by an accreditation of Ministry of Education of Greece and HQA state agency according Greece State Legislature or has not been granted the status of a Deemed-to-be-University, is not entitled to award a university status degree. In Greece it is illegal to offer a qualification that is or might seem to be a university degree because all Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) in Greece are public (state) operating with government approval.
The Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualificati is appointed by the Secretary for Education of Education Bureau as the Accreditation Authority and QR Authority under the Qualifications Framework of Hong Kong (HKQF).
Assessment is made with reference to local and internationally recognised standards through a process of peer review. The HKCAAVQ will issue an accreditation report on the outcome of the accreditation activity.
Accreditation is compulsory for all universities in India except those created through an act of Parliament. Without accreditation, "It is emphasized that these fake institutions have no legal entity to call themselves as University/Vishwvidyalaya and to award ‘degrees’ which are not treated as valid for academic/employment purposes." The University Grants Commission Act, 1956 explains,
"the right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act or a State Act or an Institution deemed to be University or an institution specially empowered by an Act of the Parliament to confer or grant degrees. Thus, any institution which has not been created by an enactment of Parliament or a State Legislature or has not been granted the status of a Deemed-to-be-University, is not entitled to award a degree."
In 2012, Seattle Times wrote about "Poorly regulated, unaccredited and often entirely fake colleges have sprung up" around India in response to "demand for higher education accelerates, driven by rising aspirations and a bulging population of young people." India's higher-education commission reported that of more than 31,000 higher-education institutions, only 4,532 schools were accredited.
The later stages of Ireland's National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) relate to third-level education in the state. Universities in Ireland are self-regulating and accredit their own courses; they were established by the state (by royal charter or primary legislation) as were many other publicly funded higher education providers, such as the institutes of technology (ITs). Some courses delivered by non-university institutions are accredited by one of the universities, others by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), an agency of the Department of Education established in 2012 to replace earlier accreditation bodies the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and Further Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC and FETAC). QQI delegates its power to some providers, including most ITs. The NFQ also recognises many foreign accreditation bodies, such as the UK's NCFE and City and Guilds of London Institute. Many further education colleges in Ireland offer courses accredited by UK universities. In 2010, when reviewing American College Dublin's accreditation, HETAC objected to its advertising its affiliation to the US-based "Irish American University" on the ground that the Universities Act 1997 restricts the use of the label "university".
The Council for Higher Education is, by a 1958 law, the only institution qualified to accredit universities and colleges in Israel. The council acts as a reviewer of the activity of the academic centers in Israel and sets terms and requirements for every degree given.
The formal system for accreditation of State University programs in Italy began in 1933, with the ( R.D. 31.8.1933, n.1592, art. 167). This law accredits a set of Universities, faculties, and courses. A further modification was the Law 14 agosto 1982, n. 590, where a set of new Universities were accredited. A new system of accreditation was approved by Law 9 maggio 1989, n. 168. It involves two separate but correlated programs that were instituted at the same time: First, each University went through a four-step process to adopt and approve its own Regolamenti Didattici di Ateneo (RDA). The RDA establishes the rules for the organization of teaching at the university, including establishing the requirements and objectives of each degree program, the curricula, credits awarded and requirements and objectives of examinations. The RDA's were developed in consultation with representatives of the individual university, the regional coordinating committee (CRC), employers and the National University Council and are ultimately approved by the Ministry of Education (MIUR). Second, a series of formal, objective standards was adopted as minimum requirements for approval of any programs. In addition, there are other forms of accreditation in Italy. These include: (i) accreditation of degree programs in engineering by the Council of Presidents of the Italian Faculties of Engineering called SINAI, a national system for accrediting such programs; (ii) accreditation of MBA programs by the independent agency, Association for Business Management Training (ASFOR)and (iii) a program for accreditation of non-state university programs, which, since 1996, as involved a process of formal legal approval, involving an independent review by the National Committee for Evaluation of the University System (CNVSU) and then issuance of a formal ministerial decree approving by the issuance of degrees by the university.
In 2004, following a long postwar period of independent quality assurance of select member institutions by the JUAA, the Japanese government via the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology began to certify third party bodies as quality assurance agencies for Japanese degrees.
As of 2016, 13 organizations are certified to accredit tertiary institutions, of which three accredit standard academic universities. These three bodies are:
- ja: Japan University Accreditation Association (JUAA)
- ja: Japan Institution for Higher Education Evaluation (JIHEE)
The Commission for University Education (CUE), formerly known as the Commission for Higher Education (CHE), is in charge of the programs accreditation and the award of charters to institutions of higher learning. The commission also serves as the monitoring and evaluation body to ensure compliance towards quality of education offered by institutions under charter.
Accreditation was done by the Lembaga Akreditasi Negara (National Accreditation Board), a statutory body created through an act of Parliament, for certificates, diplomas and degree courses provided by private higher educational institutions (defined as institutions providing tertiary or post-secondary education) until 2007 when the body was replaced with the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA).
Prior to the enactment of the legislations that provided for the establishment of these bodies, no specific framework for accreditation existed and institutions only required a valid registration status from the Ministry of Education of Malaysia.
Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium)
The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) is a binational organization formed by treaty in 2003 to independently ensure the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders by assessing and accrediting programs. As a result of separate legislation in the two jurisdictions, accreditation policies and procedures differ between the two countries.
The main accreditation body for higher education is Higher Education Commission (HEC) which is the primary regulator of higher education in Pakistan (formerly called the University Grant Commission (UGC)). It regulates and formulates laws governing all the degree awarding institutes in Pakistan. It also facilitates the development of higher educational system and upgrade the universities of Pakistan to be the centers of education, research and development.
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The Portuguese Agência de Acreditação (state-managed Accreditation Agency) for higher education is, since 2007, responsible for the publication of the national ranking of higher education institutions and degrees.
Within the Bologna process a state agency was set up by the Portuguese Government to offer central and regulated accreditation. Previously, Portugal had used a system of professional accreditation and degree recognition by sector, with a number of associations, Unions and Professional Orders (Ordens Profissionais): the Ordem dos Médicos (for medical doctors), the Ordem dos Engenheiros (for engineers) and the Portuguese Bar Association (for lawyers).
The Sindicato dos Engenheiros Técnicos (for technical engineers), was created as the professional association of technical engineers, who were not full chartered engineers, having as mandatory qualification a simple short-cycle 3-year bachelor's degree (bacharelato) awarded by the Portuguese polytechnical institutes and now discontinued since the mid-2000s.
The Associação de Técnicos de Contas (for accounting technicians), the Câmara de Revisores Oficiais de Contas (for financial auditors, similar to Chartered Accountants) and the Sindicato dos Enfermeiros (for nurses) are examples of organizations which were oriented towards professions that at least until the 1990s did not demand a specific academic degree. For example, to be member of the Câmara de Revisores Oficiais de Contas (for financial auditors), candidates needed to have two years of experience and must have a degree in a range of possible area (Economics, Finance, Business Administration, Accounting or Law). Like in other similar international associations (Chartered Accountant), the Câmara de Revisores Oficiais de Contas have very selective examinations.
Some organizations (starting as Associations or Unions) were upgraded later into Ordens like, for example, the Ordem dos Farmacêuticos (for pharmacists), the Ordem dos Arquitectos (for architects), the Ordem dos Biólogos (for biologists), the Ordem dos Economistas (for economists), the Ordem dos Enfermeiros (for nurses) and the Ordem dos Revisores Oficiais de Contas (for chartered accountants and financial auditors). In addition, the state through the ministry for higher education, has usually been the central highest accreditation entity and thus it is illegal to award degrees without government approval.
For many years, there were state-accredited institutions, both public and private, awarding unaccredited degrees by the Ordens. This dubious situation changed in the mid-2000s with the deep reorganization imposed by the Bologna process implementation in Portugal, the creation of the new central state-managed Accreditation Agency and the foundation of many regulated new Ordens covering dozens of professions until then unregulated by this type of professional organization.
In 1999, over 15,000 students enrolled in Portuguese higher learning institutions and newly graduates in the fields of engineering and architecture, were enrolled or were awarded a degree in a non-accredited course. Those students and graduates with no official recognition were not admitted to any Ordem and were unable to develop professional activity in their presumed field of expertise (e.g. architect; chemical, electrical or civil/structural engineer; lawyer; accountant; and financial auditor, among other professionals). At the same time, only one accredited engineering course was offered by a private university and over 90% of the accredited courses with recognition in the fields of engineering, architecture and law were exclusively provided by state-run universities.
In 2007, the compulsory closing of some problematic and unreliable private higher education institutions (like the defunct Independente University and the Moderna University) which in general had been accredited by the state during the boom of private teaching of the 1990s, but usually without providing any accredited degrees in accordance with the requirements of the main Ordens was seen as a remedy of last resort in order to prevent a further loss of credibility among some sectors within the non-public university higher education.[failed verification]
In Russia accreditation/national recognition is directly overseen by the Ministry of Education and Science of Russian Federation. Since 1981, Russia has followed the UNESCO international regulations to ensure Russian institutions and international institutions meet high quality standards. It is illegal for a school to operate without government approval.
The Russian Federation has a three-step recognition system:
There exist additional agencies, such as the Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance and Career Development (AKKORK), which conducts independent assessment of quality assurance of higher education institutions. AKKORK is an independent professional agency in the field of consultancy, conduct of the reviews, accreditation and certification of education institutions. In accordance with the Russian legislation in such activities as: state supervision over compliance with legislation of the Russian Federation on education, control over compliance with licensing requirements and conditions, state control over the education quality could be involved experts and expert organizations, accredited in accordance with rules approved by the Government of the Russian Federation. AKKORK on July 8, 2011 received the proper accreditation in the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science.
National Accreditation Agency (NAA) of the Ministry of Education and Science also operates under the authority of Federal Service of Supervision in Education and Science. NAA is recognized as the organisation in Russia responsible for dissemination of knowledge and information on procedures of the state accreditation of HEIs. It develops materials and methodological recommendations for conducting self-evaluations and external reviews, trains experts, conducts research into the development of QA of higher education in Russia, prepares the final reports on the quality of the HEI.
In South Africa all higher education institutions are required to register with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). All qualifications are registered by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) in line with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) accredits programs leading to a NQF registered qualification. All programs offered by South African higher education institutions must be accredited.
It is illegal to falsely claim a degree in South Korea if it does not meet accredited approval. For example, in March 2006, prosecutors in Seoul "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras." People who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.
Thailand has a system of national accreditation. The agency who takes care of such accreditation is Office of the Higher Education Commission. The details regarding quality assurance can be found in Handbook for Internal Quality Assurance for Higher Education Institutions. She also has criteria for international qualification, especially those who have obtained degrees abroad. In addition, since Thailand is an active member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the educational collaboration is also strengthened in Southeast Asian states.
In the UK it is illegal to offer a qualification that is or might seem to be a UK degree unless the awarding body is a "recognised body" authorised by a Royal Charter or by or under an Act of Parliament to grant degrees, a "listed body" authorised by a recognised body to offer courses leading to a degree from that recognised body or the qualification is a "recognised award" designated by order of the Secretary of State.[non-primary source needed] Prosecutions under the Education Reform Act are rare, as many unaccredited awarding bodies are based outside UK jurisdiction. It is also worth noting in this context that the Business Names Act 1985 made it an offence for any business in the UK to use the word "university" in its name without the formal approval of the Privy Council.
Private higher education (HE) and further education (FE) institutions (here distinguished from the qualifications that they offer) are unregulated, but may choose to become accredited by various non-regulatory bodies such as the British Accreditation Council or the British Council and Accreditation Service for International Colleges in order to demonstrate third-party assessment of the quality of education they offer. The Universities Funding Council and Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council established in the UK under the Education Reform Act 1988 have responsibility for the public funding of the FE and HE sector.
Prosecutions under legislation other than the Education Reform Act 1988 do occur. In 2004, Thames Valley College in London was prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 for offering degrees from the 'University of North America', a limited liability company set up by themselves in the US with no academic staff and no premises other than a mail forwarding service. (Note that this organization differs from the current University of North America, a non-accredited institution.)
The US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) (a non-governmental organization) both recognize accrediting bodies for institutions of higher education, but US Department of Education recognition is necessary for access to financial aid and federally guaranteed student loans under Title IV. They also provide guidelines as well as resources and relevant data regarding these accreditors. Neither the US Department of Education nor the CHEA accredit individual institutions. However the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity is involved in certifying accrediting agencies, as it applies to the issue of higher education institutions' qualifications to disburse federal financial aid to their students and their students' ability to qualify for federal financial aid.
The Higher Education Authority was established under the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013  to provide regulation and quality assurance of higher education institutions in Zambia.The authority is also mandated by law to register private higher education institutions.
- Educational accreditation
- Unaccredited institutions of higher learning
- List of recognized higher education accreditation organizations
- List of unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations
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