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What is benchmarking?

Everybody in the HE sector must be aware of the term 'benchmarking' even if they are not sure what it is.

Benchmarking: A working definition

'Benchmarking is a subject community making explicit the nature and standards of awards which carry the subject in their title or in which the subject is included in the programme leading to the award.' (ML July 1999)

As part of the QAA’s Teaching Review policies Benchmark Statements have been drawn up to provide the first step in an ongoing process of writing frameworks for teaching programmes. Benchmark statements for History of Art, Architecture and Design (HAAD), Communication, Media, Film and Cultural Studies, and Art & Design were developed by the QAA's specialist subject groups and following lengthy consultation with the sector in 2002. The structure of the benchmarking statements includes: defining principles, nature and scope of the subject, subject knowledge, subject skills and general skills, teaching, learning, assessment and standards.

QAA Subject benchmark statements

Subject benchmark statements provide a means for the academic community to describe the nature and characteristics of programmes in a specific subject. They also represent general expectations about the standards for the award of qualifications at a given level and articulate the attributes and capabilities that those possessing such qualifications should be able to demonstrate. This Subject benchmark statement, together with the others published concurrently, refers to the bachelors degree with honours.

Subject benchmark statements are used for a variety of purposes:

Primarily, they are an important external source of reference for higher education institutions when new programmes are being designed and developed in a subject area. They provide general guidance for articulating the learning outcomes associated with the programme but are not a specification of a detailed curriculum in the subject. Benchmark statements provide for variety and flexibility in the design of programmes and encourage innovation within an agreed overall framework.

Subject benchmark statements also provide support to institutions in pursuit of internal quality assurance. They enable the learning outcomes specified for a particular programme to be reviewed and evaluated against agreed general expectations about standards. Finally, Subject benchmark statements may be one of a number of external reference points that are drawn upon for the purposes of external review. Reviewers do not use Subject benchmark statements as a crude checklist for these purposes however. Rather, they are used in conjunction with the relevant programme specifications, the institution's own internal evaluation documentation, in order to enable reviewers to come to a rounded judgement based on a broad range of evidence.

The benchmarking of academic standards for this subject area has been undertaken by a group of subject specialists drawn from and acting on behalf of the subject community. The group's work was facilitated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which publishes and distributes this statement and other statements developed by similar subject-specific groups. In due course, but not before July 2005, the statement will be revised to reflect developments in the subject and the experiences of institutions and others who are working with it. The Quality Assurance Agency will initiate revision and, in collaboration with the subject community, will make arrangements for any necessary modifications to the statement. To download the appropriate Benchmark Statement drafts visit:

This statement is © The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2002. It may be reproduced by educational institutions solely for educational purposes, without permission. Excerpts may be reproduced for the purpose of research, private study, or review without permission, provided full acknowledgement is given to the subject benchmarking group for this subject area and to the copyright of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.