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.