This briefing paper explores questions of quality assurance and accountability from the perspective of music teaching institutions with high objectives for preparation of professional performers and composers. These institutions, both in Europe and in the United States, face challenges in dealing with issues of quality that are different, though no less intense, than programmes focused on undergraduate general education, scholarly or scientific subjects, or pedagogy.
Overview of Quality Systems in Europe
Neither the European Union nor the wider Europe currently makes use of a general framework for quality assurance. Quality assurance, evaluation, and accreditation are usually organised on the national level and the methods used differ as much as the education systems. There is, however, a general trend, initiated by the Bologna Declaration Process, to stimulate the establishment of quality assurance agencies in all European countries and to develop a closer collaboration between such agencies on a European level in terms of procedures and criteria. This document provides a description of quality assurance methods currently used in European countries.
Overview of Quality Systems in the US
Accreditation in the US is almost totally nongovernmental and functions with two basic types of accrediting groups: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditors are responsible for reviewing an institution as a whole, and assuring its basic quality. Specialized accreditation organizations accredit educational programs preparing students for a variety of licensed and unlicensed professions. The National Association of Schools of Music is both an institutional and a specialized accreditor; however, for most institutions, it acts as a specialized agency. This document provides a detailed description of the US system for quality assurance and accreditation.
A statement on the characteristics of an effective evaluation system has been developed specifically for the professional music training sector. This statement is useful to institutions facing an institutional or specialised quality evaluation process, and can serve as a source of information for quality assurance agencies and for national, regional, and local governments. It highlights the qualities which make music training a discipline which in many ways cannot directly be compared with other types of studies and for which otherwise approved methods of evaluation and accreditation may need to be adapted.
Standards, Learning Outcomes
The European Association of Conservatoires (AEC) and the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) produced a common statement, based on their respective existing statements (standards/learning outcomes: see below), regarding a common body of knowledge and skills expected of all graduates from first cycle curricula in professional music training. This common statement has no force as an accreditation or review standard, but does serve to document fundamental aspirations and expectations for student learning for all professional musicians.
The NASM standards are established by vote of the institutional members. They have evolved to their present form during over seventy-five years of study, consultation, and debate. The standards represent professional consensus regarding threshold conditions for offering various types of music degrees and other credentials. They provide a framework for the individual approaches of various institutions, focussing on what students should know and be able to do. This document provides relevant excerpts from the NASM Handbook 2003-2004.
General Standards for Professional Baccalaureate Degrees in Music (Excerpt from the NASM Handbook)
The AEC Learning Outcomes document characterises the type of learning which typically takes place in each of the two cycles of professional music training, and identifies what students will typically have achieved by the end of the first cycle. These learning outcomes can be helpful to institutions when they are in a process of developing a 2-cycle structure or for other curriculum development activities. They can also be a useful tool in the framework of quality assurance procedures.