Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Professional accreditation

core definition

Professional accreditation is a the process (or the outcome of the process) by which a programme of study is validated by a professional or regulatory body as a programme that prepares students for registration in a regulated profession.

explanatory context

This is similar to specialized accreditation in the United States.

In the UK, many professional and regulatory bodies accredit programmes and such accreditation varies from required for professional practice through to advisory (Harvey and Mason, with Ward, 1995)

analytical review

The University of Southampton (2003), for example, states:

Many Schools have their teaching provision accredited by an external body. In some cases a professional or statutory body accredits a range of programmes, as is the case in Medicine and in Nursing & Midwifery. In other cases an individual programme is accredited by a specific professional body. Professional/statutory body accreditation usually entails an inspection of provision, either through a visit to a subject department or through scrutiny of programme documentation. It is often given for a specific time period, after which there has to be further inspection to retain the accreditation.


The Manual of the University Quality Assurance International Board of Dubai (2012) states:

Professional accreditation: Programme Accreditation by a professional body establishing that graduates have the competencies required for professional practice.

Lester (2010) defines professional accreditation as follows:

'Accreditation' is used here to mean a form of qualified status or individual registration awarded by a professional or regulatory body that confirms an individual as fit to practise. In chartered bodies it is often referred to as chartership or chartered membership, and in regulated professions as registration. Accreditation can relate to a primary field (e.g. surveying, accountancy) or a sub-field (e.g. quantity surveying, financial audit) after qualifying in the main field.

associated issues

Lester (2010) also sets out the principles of professional accreditation as follows:

The effect of accreditation will vary depending on the market and regulatory context: for instance the extent of any regulation, the policies of key clients or employers, and market perceptions about the need for practitioners to be qualified. Accreditation can therefore be essential or almost essential for gaining work in a profession or occupation; provide access to a greater range of work and possibly to higher levels of remuneration; or have little effect beyond the satisfaction of the individual practitioner.
Accreditation does not necessarily depend on acquiring specific academic or course-based qualifications. The routes and requirements that a professional body uses for accreditation are largely its choice1, though they should follow the principles outlined below.
Where accreditation influences practitioners’ ability to practise or gain employment then the fairness, transparency and robustness of the process is critical. Lack of fairness and transparency could give rise to legal claims for unlawfully restricting practice, while lack of robustness leaves the accrediting body open to action if approved practitioners lack competence in the field they are accredited for.
To meet the requirements of ‘fair, transparent and robust’ the qualifying process would be expected to meet comparable criteria to those for public qualifications (in the UK the main sources of reference are the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator [Ofqual] and the Scottish Qualifications Authority). The key principles are outlined below.
• the qualifying process must be open to all relevant would-be practitioners (this suggests having a pragmatically clear notion of both the boundaries of the profession and the level at which the qualification is set)
• there must be no unjustifiable barriers to access, such as:

- requiring irrelevant entry qualifications, unjustifiable periods of experience, or unjustifiable training or career paths (current trends are towards increasing the range of entry-routes available e.g. away from insisting on specific academic qualifications and set periods of experience) (See Lester, S (2008) Routes and requirements for becoming professionally qualified (Bristol, Professional Associations Research Network) for a summary of trends and practices in the UK.)

- discriminating against people (including indirectly) by racial, ethnic or national origin, gender, age, religious belief etc
- setting an entry or assessment fee that is not justified by the work involved or is calculated to discourage applications
- requiring a process that is unnecessarily time-consuming or difficult.
• the process must apply valid, explicit and publicly-accessible requirements and standards— ideally developed in consultation with the practitioner and stakeholder community and where appropriate referenced to relevant international standards or benchmarks
• the process must be consistent, valid and fair; this includes using a consistent assessment and monitoring process, applying the same criteria to all candidates, assessing only those attributes that are relevant, and using assessment methods that are appropriate to what is being assessed
• the process must avoid conflicts of interest and sources of obvious bias, e.g. candidates being assessed by people who are in competition with them or who could have a vested interest in the outcome of the assessment (depending on circumstances this could include client bodies, government agencies and educational institutions)
• the process should have an appeals procedure that includes recourse to sufficiently independent arbiters (i.e. not the people involved in the original assessment decisions)
• the process should have an accountable and transparent system of governance.
In addition, for it to be credible any system for professional accreditation needs to have continuity and consistency. This normally means having some guarantee of longevity as well as operating within a framework that, while it supports review and evolution, avoids sudden changes in purpose or operating principles.
Unlike a public qualification, accredited status is likely to carry with it a number of ongoing requirements, for instance to keep up-to-date, to remain in practice, to practise competently and ethically, and to pay an ongoing fee (which should be set at a level commensurate with maintaining accreditation and providing other agreed benefits). Accrediting bodies should be able to remove the accreditation of a person who defaults, but as with the assessment and initial accreditation process this needs to be done in a way that is fair, transparent and has clear criteria.

related areas

See also


accreditation body

accreditation status

professional body

professional recognition

programme accreditation

specialized accreditation


Harvey, L. and Mason, S. with Ward, R., 1995, The Role of Professional Bodies in Higher Education Quality Monitoring. Birmingham: Quality in Higher Education Project.

Lester, S., 2010, Principles of Professional Accreditation, available at, originally 2005 and revised March 2010, accessed 4 October 2012, page not available 9 January 2017.

University of Southampton, 2003, QA Handbook, 1.3.5 PSB Accreditation,, not available 23 January 2012.

University Quality Assurance International Board [of Dubai], 2012, Quality Assurance Manual, version 1.6, June 2012.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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