New Zealand Qualifications Authority: Monitoring the quality of polytechnic education
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is a Crown entity set up in 1990 to take a lead role in the areas of quality-assured qualifications, and quality-assured provision of education and training.
NZQA is responsible for the quality assurance of polytechnics. Quality assurance functions include approving courses, accrediting providers to deliver courses, and auditing providers against academic quality standards.
For 19 of the country’s 20 polytechnics, NZQA has delegated its quality assurance functions to an independent agency, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics Quality (ITP Quality). A division within NZQA (the Provider Registration and Accreditation unit1) audits the other polytechnic (Unitec New Zealand).
The scope of our audit
Our performance audit assessed how effectively NZQA oversees quality assurance in the polytechnic sector. Specifically, our audit:
- examined how NZQA manages delegating quality assurance functions for the polytechnic sector;
- reviewed the operation of, and reporting arrangements for, the academic audit function delegated to ITP Quality;
- reviewed NZQA’s auditing of Unitec New Zealand;
- examined the extent to which a risk-based approach is used in the academic audits of polytechnics; and
- reviewed how special audits are used for polytechnics.
Our audit focused on quality assurance as it relates to academic audits (that is, reports on the quality of education that polytechnics provide). We did not look at course approval or provider accreditation.
NZQA has systems for monitoring how it delegates quality assurance functions to ITP Quality, and ITP Quality had a well-established academic audit system. We concluded that there were opportunities for NZQA’s board to more actively review the academic audits to ensure that it is promptly aware of any quality issues.
In our view, NZQA needed to adopt a more strategic approach to using academic audit reports, and to consider how to use the reports for other purposes (for example, better understanding the quality of the education that polytechnics are providing, and informing NZQA’s quality assurance role in the polytechnic sector).
We recommended that NZQA:
- formally review all academic audit reports received from ITP Quality;
- summarise the audit reports received from ITP Quality and the Provider Registration and Accreditation unit, and that NZQA’s management report this summary to the NZQA board;
- hold regular formal meetings with ITP Quality to discuss issues associated with academic auditing functions;
- require that all ITP Quality’s audit reports contain enough evidence to support audit conclusions that academic standards have been complied with; and
- require that ITP Quality audit reports clearly state the reasons for selecting the programmes to be audited.
The response to our findings and recommendations
During our audit, NZQA said that our recommendations were in keeping with the direction it was taking under its new divisional structure. ITP Quality also supported the recommendations. Our staff and NZQA officials have regularly met to discuss how they are carrying out our recommendations.
The Deputy Chief Executive of NZQA’s Quality Assurance Division oversaw the implementation of our recommendations. By the time our audit report was published, NZQA already had a plan in place for carrying out our five recommendations.
We note that NZQA is working closely with ITP Quality, and that the Deputy Chief Executive of NZQA’s Quality Assurance Division is now a non-voting member of the ITP Quality board.
We are confident that NZQA is making good progress in addressing our recommendations to improve its monitoring of the quality of polytechnic education.
1: At the time of our audit, this group was known as the Approvals, Accreditation and Audit group.