AQ Austria provides to HEIs four distinct kinds of consulting services covering issues related to establishing and further developing quality assurance within the institution.
HEIs often base decisions concerning internal organisation and management on expert assessments (peer reviews).
Mandating an external agency with the task of carrying out evaluations offers the advantages of enhanced neutrality as well as findings that are considered more binding. HEIs additionally benefit from AQ Austria's high level of professionalism and substantial pool of experts.
Evaluations are usually conducted along the lines of the conventional peer review workflow. One special feature is the method of defining topics of investigation or evaluation criteria, which takes place in joint consultation with the HEI and usually involves an independent expert. The peer advisors prepare a review report which, serving merely as a recommendation for the HEI, is evaluated as part of a joint follow-up process. AQ Austria does not disclose the findings of the procedure, and the HEI is free to decide whether the review report or even the fact that a procedure has been conducted is published.
Evaluations are also an option for HEIs that plan to become accredited according to European standards but still require some preparation. Institutions can thus make use of evaluations as a way of preparing for accreditation or audit procedures with other agencies.
Exchanging expertise with other HEIs provides an institution with great insight relevant for its own progress as an organisation and for quality improvement. AQ Austria’s offer comprises contributing expertise on specialised topics and moderating the process in a professional way as well as subsequently analysing and polishing findings. The exchange of expertise is conducted on specific topics relating to internal quality assurance which the participating higher education institutions jointly define.
AQ Austria offers customised counselling as a means of preparing for an audit. As a prerequisite to an audit, a HEI must systematically catalogue and amalgamate the various quality assurance instruments and organisation processes at the institution as well as provide evidence for the effectiveness of the institution's quality management system (QMS). The objective of external consulting in this case is to analyse the HEI's internal quality assurance system. The analysis can help identify gaps in the QMS, aid in implementing quality management measures, and support the HEI in documenting the internal QMS.
Where advice is provided in preparation for an audit, AQ Austria cannot perform the subsequent audit at this institution, and the HEI concerned cannot have AQ Austria conduct the audit during the same performance agreement period.
An advisory focus audit lends added impetus to the HEI's efforts in establishing and further developing a selected aspect of the institution's internal QMS. Examples of aspects on which focus audits can be conducted include: degree programmes and teaching; research and development; arts-based and applied research and development, as well as other areas in which a HEI offers programmes as stipulated in the individual case, as long as it can be linked with the institution's core activities.
A focus audit involves an assessment of the structure and effectiveness of quality management in the selected area, based on four audit standards defined by the AQ Austria for the audit procedure. The assessment is made through a peer review procedure. The reviewers approach the university as peers, i.e. at the same level, and assess the status of development within the specific area of the QMS in the context of the HEI at large, while recommendations form an intrinsic part of the assessment.