The ECTE operates in the field of accreditation within the overall context of European higher learning where the progressive enlargement of the European Union has generated a process of profound change and the realization of a common European Higher Education Area (the EHEA). In this process, a major role is being played by the “Bologna Process” which has united over 47 European Ministers of Education and numerous educational and governmental agencies around the project of creating a common framework of reference for European tertiary education.
In recognising the value of the EHEA educational framework and desiring to better contextualise to the European situation, the ECTE has integrated several of the EHEA tools into its own standards and procedures. These include, for example, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) that have been incorporated into the Standards and Guidelines for ECTE Accreditation to define levels and standards. The European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) have also been used as points of reference for ECTE’s own internal quality manifesto (see Section 3.6 in this document). The ECTE also encourages the use of specific EHEA tools such as the ECTS credit system, the Dublin Descriptors and the Diploma Supplement as well as the implementation of educational strategies such as learning-outcome based programmes and the recognition of non-formal and informal learning.
At the request of an ECTE member school seeking accreditation a joint procedure with a national agency may be conducted. Prerequisite to the joint accreditation is a cooperative agreement between both agencies which have their own strengths and expertise. A collaborative accreditation process with merged evaluative criteria needs to be defined as standards will be applied in a complementary way.
ECTE Accreditation in global evangelical theological education
In addition to being uniquely European, ECTE accreditation also reflects global evangelical theological education.
Over the decades, many evangelical theological institutions have been established in many parts of the world and a number regional accrediting agencies, such as the ECTE, have risen up to provide networking and quality assurance services to these agencies. Eight such regional accrediting agencies cooperate in the international network know as the International Council For Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE), representing nearly 1200 schools in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Euro-Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa and North America.
ICETE’s origins are rooted in the emergence of networks of evangelical theological schools in the majority world during the late 1960s and early 1970s. From among these new associations came a call for some means by which they might be in regular contact and collaboration at the international level. The WEA Theological Commission agreed to sponsor the project, and ICETE was formed in March 1980.
The ECTE reflects the values and standards of global theological education by endorsing key documents like the ICETE Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education and by substantially including the ICETE Standards and Guidelines for Global Evangelical Theological Education (SG-GETE) into its own accreditation standards.
Joint accreditation is also being implemented within the ICETE network. Occasionally ECTE has been asked to conduct a joint accreditation with an agency of the ICETE network (e. g. with the ATA or the MENATE). A procedural agreement for such a collaborative accreditation taking into consideration the standards of both agencies has then been defined as a work basis.
The aims of ECTE accreditation
Accreditation is a process which requires prolonged time for self and external evaluation, during which the total institution’s setting, programme, structures and life are carefully reviewed. Very simply stated, accreditation is the process whereby an external agent verifies the internal quality assurance processes of an institution and the achievement of mutually agreed upon standards.
As an accrediting agency, the ECTE aims to alongside theological institutions to:
- help set appropriate outcome standards for programmes;
- ensure that institutional management is able to ensure these standards;
- encourage the creation of a culture of inner quality assurance processes;
- verify whether or not the set standards are achieved;
- provide qualified guidance to institutions on issues of development and best practice;
- provide certification of quality to stakeholders, students and the general public.
Accrediting associations are often perceived as constraining structures that hunt out weaknesses in institutions and impose predetermined standards. Rightly understood however, the accreditation process is didactic and is meant to help institutions achieve their own objectives and increase their “fitness for purpose”.
‘At the heart of all quality assurance activities are the twin purposes of accountability and enhancement. Taken together, these create trust in the higher education institution’s performance’.
The ECTE aims to help institutions ask the right questions, find the answers that fit their context and establish appropriate internal quality assurance procedures that will meet the desired outcomes. The ECTE’s main task is not to criticise institutions, but to lend expertise and assistance and to identify areas of weakness in order to stimulate institutions to greater excellence and relevance.
Here are some further aims that are achieved through the ECTE accreditation process:
- Accreditation helps to clearly formulate objectives and to evaluate educational programmes within the framework of these objectives to guarantee and improve fitness for purpose;
- Evangelical accreditation helps to develop quality objectives and criteria for evaluating academic, ministerial and formational outcomes;
- ECTE’s accreditation processes do not contradict, but rather contribute to institutions wishing to obtain governmental or ecclesiastical recognition;
- Evangelical accreditation sends a positive message to churches concerning the evangelical ethos of an institution. It is also an instrument that helps an institution preserve its evangelical identity and stability over time;
- Accreditation helps to establish reliable points of comparison to enhance cooperation between theological educational institutions and student mobility;
- Accreditation helps to foster communication with partner churches, missions and Christian organisations, as well as with churches and organisations abroad. The quality assurance standards and their evaluation form a common vocabulary and frame of reference for mutual understanding and collaboration;
- Reference to good practice in the EHEA and use of the ESG in the ECTE standards and procedures can help institutions prepare for future government review and accreditation opportunities;
- Theological institutions that do not pursue accreditation may sacrifice quality and hinder hard-working students from attaining recognised certification desired by the faith communities they serve;
- Use of the SG-GETE in the ECTE standards and guidelines and reference to ICETE and ISCED international nomenclature provides international recognizability by potential graduate employers and progression to further study. Having an accredited programme with the ECTE means that the institution’s degrees will usually be recognized by evangelical institutions worldwide.
Quality assurance of evangelical theological education in Europe is both sensitive to higher education issues in Europe and based on evangelical values. Thanks to this kind of accreditation, institutions can improve their educational programmes and offer study degrees that are recognized in many contexts.
For a general introduction to the ECTE’s identity, activities and organisations see Introducing the ECTE.